They’re in our homes. They’re in our beds. They rule over our couches and loveseats. No, I’m not talking about our children. I’m talking about our pets.
Long gone are the days when dogs lived outside, quarantined to the backyard doghouse. Today the dog’s place is in the home, with plush beds, ample toys and organic food. Pets have become beloved members of our family. We spend money on them – over $75.36 billion in 2019 according to Fortune[i]. We make social media accounts and online identities for them – some becoming famous, like Doug The Pug, who has 3.8 million Instagram followers, his own toy line, a New York Times bestselling book The King of Pop Culture and has made appearances on Good Morning America. Some of us cook for our pets, take them to day care, and check them into spas.
Many pets in America are living their best lives. And all should be, because studies are beginning to show just how beneficial animals are to our mental, physical, and professional wellbeing.
Through my work for Banfield Pet Hospital, I’ve read countless studies on how pets positively impact our relationships, our stress levels, and even our blood pressure. One study by the University of Buffalo found that regular interactions with pets controls blood pressure better than ACE inhibitors used to treat hypertension[ii]. Another study found that being in the presence of pets can reduce stress more than friends and spouses[iii]. Plus it helps that pets encourage us to walk more, which is essential for managing anxiety and our overall health.
Pets help us connect socially too. In the age of technological bubbles, they make striking up conversations with people easier and less nerve-racking. Pets also make us feel less lonely, which is critical as we get older. “Owning a dog also has been linked to better mental health in other studies and less perception of social isolation—both risk factors for heart attacks,” says Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., chair of the Division of Preventive Cardiology at Mayo Clinic[iv].
Additionally, pets can have a profound impact on our children. Researchers at UBC Okanagan found that children who read in the presence of a dog were more motivated, spent more time reading, and they reported feeling greater interest and competency[v]. For adolescents, Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls wrote in the New York Times that pets play a special developmental role in offering physical affection, non-judgmental attention, and providing a safe space for emotional intimacy[vi].
Pets can also affect our career success. Kelton Research surveyed C-suite executives, of whom 93% said they grew up with a pet, 78% partially credit their career success to having a pet as a child, 77% said they came up with a business idea while walking a pet, and 24% say their childhood pet taught them more than their first internship[vii]. In the office, researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University found that having dogs around helped lower stress levels of employees when measuring their cortisol levels at the end of the day. And, a survey by Banfield Pet Hospital found that 67% of employees said that having a pet at work made them more productive[viii]. At Action Mary, Frank, Teo and Buster regularly roam our halls, encouraging walks and snuggle breaks.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. As more studies are published, we’ll have an even greater understanding of just how wonderful our pets are, and how much they contribute to our happiness and wellbeing.
In short, treat your pets like the royalty that they are, with love and generosity. They’ll return the benefits to you by a tenfold.