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Creature Comforts: 10 Ways Animals Could Help with Happiness and Health

Nothing quite matches the feeling of coming home to a pet eagerly awaiting your arrival. And there has decades of scientific research backing up the fact that when it comes to your happiness and health, animals play a vital role.

Having a pet or interacting with an animal can heighten a day like today, the International Day of Happiness. Here are 10 ways studies have shown that animals contribute to our overall well-being.

  • As far back as 1980, a study found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who did not.
  • Three different studies published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked into multiple ways pets improve the lives of owners, even those who are completely healthy. Among the findings: pet owners exhibited greater self-esteem, were less lonely and less stressed out. Pet owners even reported receiving as much support from their pets as they did from family members.
  • In a study published in the Journal of the British Veterinary Association, psychologists found reasons to believe that owning a dog helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • A State University of New York at Buffalo study found that dog and cat owners are more likely to have lower blood pressure, less anxiety and reduced heart rate.
  • In a University of Missouri study, dog ownership was found to potentially benefit families of children with autism.
  • Dog owners are more motivated to exercise. A recent study found that two-thirds of dog owners took their pets for regular walks and nearly half of dog owners exercised about 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week.
  • Animal-assisted therapy has been linked to reduction of anxiety, pain and depression and is used by a wide-range of people, including chemotherapy or physical therapy patients, military veterans and those in assisted care facilities.
  • A study found that bringing their dog to work made employees feel less stressed and made other employees felt more satisfied with their own jobs.
  • Dog ownership helps create more human-to-human friendships and facilitates positive social interactions, according to a recent study. Other pets, such as cats, rabbits and snakes, can also help with making friends and finding social support.
  • Sometimes it just takes one look. A study published in Science magazine found that when a dog owner looks into a pet’s eyes, levels of the hormone oxytocin (often called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone”) increased in both owner and pet, leading to emotional bonding.

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine