You may have heard of the many health benefits pets can have on our lives, ranging from lower blood pressure to improved physical fitness to mention just a few. What you may not have considered is the mental or emotional benefits that occur in us both, often without us even being aware. Scientists believe that much of our positive interaction with dogs in particular is due to the trigger of oxytocin. Research has shown that when humans interact with dogs, oxytocin levels increase for us as well as the dog. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and a hormone that supports bonding. Oxytocin is triggered naturally in parents and babies simply by gazing into one another’s eyes. This maternal bond we share with dogs goes well beyond early partnerships formed way back when we first domesticated wolves to help with hunting, herding and protecting.
Pets actually provide a very broad spectrum of social benefits too.
Our relationship with dogs has gone way beyond that of domestication. Dogs are very much a part of the family and as such are sometimes treated by us with human like behaviours, we have even coined the term ‘fur baby’ to encapsulate this. According to the 2016 Pet Ownership in Australia report, two thirds of the Australian population owns a pet and two in five households own a dog. If you own a dog you are five times more likely to meet people in your local neighbourhood than if you owned any other type of pet. In actual fact, dogs could be what precipitates new friendships and social interactions amongst our communities for owners. The dog has become the catalyst that sends people outside for a walk or to chat with a neighbour along the way where they may not have ordinarily done so if they didn’t have a pet. Socially, this is a powerful trend to see, especially in a time when we may not know our neighbours as well as we should or have become disconnected from our local communities.
It’s not just the social connections that benefit us by owning a pet, there are therapeutic benefits as well. Therapy dogs are trained to help people deal with worry, trauma, loss and anxiety, and have been found to reduce the perception of pain we experience. Scientists have also revealed that women living alone felt more lonely than those who were living with a pet. The study on loneliness and pet ownership revealed that having a pet can help to diminish feelings of loneliness, particularly for women living alone. Another interesting finding from this study was that owning a pet could compensate for the absence of human companionship.
What can we surmise from pet ownership today?
The trend we are seeing in modern pet ownership practices is encouraging. The pace of our lifestyle has increased and interestingly, so has our need for a pet. Australia continues to have one of the highest household rates of pet ownership in the world and dogs remain the highest in popularity and ownership. When it comes to dogs, owners are looking at smaller breeds of dogs that better suit their lifestyle that can easily co-habit with us indoors as our backyards shrink. This co- existence with our dog has seen a rise in our connection with them which in turn has seen the dog become integrated into the household as the family member, provide therapeutic services and improve both our health, wellbeing and fitness. This connection on a social level can assist greatly in modern lifestyles and could in fact be the key to longer, happier and fulfilled lives.
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