Monday, August 10, 2015

Want To Feel Awesome? Get a pet.

Me at age two.
Are you a cat person or a dog person? What does it mean if you're either one? Do you have to be either one? Maybe you're none of them. Maybe you're like me, and you're an all animals person. I had a roommate once who was an anti-animals person. She even hated kittens and puppies. WHO HATES KITTENS AND PUPPIES?!

My theory? She is so overwhelmingly in love with puppies and kittens that she has to deny the love in order to function on a daily basis. If you're reading this, ex-roomie, I will win you over to the animal kingdom, mark my words. (Also, looooove you.)

All of my life I've had pets. When I was 12, I convinced my parents to let me get a puppy. We picked up a Border Collie puppy from the shelter, and I named him Durango, after a family vacation we'd been on shortly before he joined our lives. 

Then, there were the cats. I've had Little Joe and Bub the orange tabby brothers who always wrestled, Bob the screen climbing tuxedo, Rob the demon cat from satan, Cookie the lost himalayan kitten, Midnight and Sherman the black shiny brothers, Pauly the ever-steadfast grey tabby, Rex the awkward flame point who I adopted the day after I found out my mom was dying, T-Money the loyal as a dog orange tabby rescue, and quite a few I don't remember the names of but they exist in pictures from the mid-1980s. The cats in my life have always been free to play outside, so they never stayed more than a few years, but I had fun with them around. 

The two cats that live with me right now. L to R: T-Money, Rex
I have always loved animals. I love greeting them in the mornings, seeing their little faces at the back door when I open it, cuddles when I'm sick, and all their little animal personality quirks. Some people say that owning an animal makes us healthier, happier, and some even say it can make you live longer. If that's possible, I intend to live a long life. So, why do we/I love them so much and are they really making our lives better? 

I looked around the internet and found a lot of research on how pets improve our lives. Here are my favorite findings: 
  • The responsibility required by owning a pet (i.e. feeding regularly, walking, bathing, etc.) gives people purpose and can improve their sense of self-worth. 
  • Having to walk a dog regularly helps limit couch potato tendencies. And as I mentioned in this post, it improves mood and health!
  • Besides behavioral changes, studies show that interacting with a pet reduces levels of harmful brain chemicals and raises good ones. People had the least amount of stress in stressful situations when they were with their pets! 
  • Even if it's not a pet, people who spend a short amount of time with a dog before upcoming operations experienced a 37% reduction in anxiety levels because the animal's presence helped distract them from their concerns. I bet this works even when you're not having an operation.
  • Multiple studies have shown that pets are powerful at reducing stress, and even lowering blood pressure and stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is linked to depression and anxiety. Pets also can help elevate the good hormones like oxytocin that are connected to happiness and relaxation. Studies even show that after just five minutes with an animal, people experienced in increase in endorphins and dopamine!
  • This isn't all limited to our furry friends. Watching a fish tank for 30 minutes lowers blood pressure. Observing an aquarium can even be more powerful than several meditative techniques.
  • 97% of pet owners talk to their pets. 
  • Heart attack patients with dogs live longer than those without.
  • Criminals in prison have even shown long-term changes in their behavior after hanging out with dogs. Many of them are experiencing mutual affection for the first time in their lives. 
  • Researchers at the University of California at Davis found that Alzheimer's patients have lower stress and less anxious episodes if there is a dog or cat in their house.
  • After a 20 year study, it was found that people who never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had. 

So, what pet do you have? Or, what pet are you going to get?

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