I am intrigued at the way dog owners adore their dogs. In fact, pet owners across the board love their pets and feel good when they are together.
Now there is a science (Anthrozoology) that is studying these effects so that animal-assisted therapies can be developed.
There is a small amount of research on cats and guinea pigs. In a recent study in 2013, it was found that having guinea pigs in the classroom improved the social skills and social functioning of children with autism disorder.
Most of the research, however, has been on dogs and a number of major benefits for anxiety and depression were found.
- When you play with your dog, your levels of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin increase. These hormones are feel-good hormones and therefore decrease your anxiety and lift your mood.
- When you have a dog you are more active, both at home and outside when you go for walks. Activity is important for your mental health. It also helps reduce obesity which is good for your physical health.
- You are more likely to stick to a routine when you have a dog that you have to walk. Routine is vital for anxiety and depression because it helps set your biological and social rhythms into a regulated pattern.
- Dogs can improve your social life as they create a vehicle for social interaction. When you go for a walk, notice how people will stop and pat your dog or share dog stories. It is a great pick up line for singles by the way.
- Your dog can satisfy your need for touch. People who live alone and/or are seldom touched, find that hugging, stroking or carrying their dog makes them feel better. This is because of oxytocin, the “hugging hormone”, which reduces stress.
- Dogs provide a focus which distracts you from your worries. When you have a dog to feed and walk and bath, you have to keep going and focusing on other things beside your worries.
- Dogs have been shown to improve health in incredible ways. This includes being able to detect an impending medical event (such as an epileptic fit or hypoglycaemia) and warning the owner in time; and detecting the odour of cancer (melanoma cells in skin and bladder cancer in urine).
- Dogs are great friends (in fact “dogs are a man’s BEST friend”) and provide companionship when you are alone, isolated, ill or ageing.
The concept of animals, in particular dogs, being beneficial to humans is not new and has been around since the ancient Greeks. With the increasing health challenges that we face in 2014, having a pet and caring for it may be a simple and cost effective way of improving mood and mental health disorders.