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The health benefits of pet ownership

Ahhh, pets… Who doesn’t enjoy the wagging of a dog’s tail? Or the purring of a kitten as it settles onto your lap (or laptop keyboard) for a quick snooze?

They give us companionship and unconditional love — and the health benefits of having a dog or cat can provide a big boost to our mental health.

Rustin Moore, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University, discussed the power of our four-legged friends. It turns out that pets actually do more than just fetch our slippers and keep us entertained.

Why is the bond we share with our pets so powerful?

So many reasons. Pets are often times the most stable part of the family structure. It’s known that around 70 percent of people in the United States have a pet. Kids are more likely to live with a pet than they are with their biological father or siblings.

So for those populations, which I think of many of them as vulnerable, it’s the most reliable, loyal thing in their life.

Who else might benefit from pets?

It’s the same thing for homeless people, as well as the homebound. You can just tell when you’re interacting with them how important that pet is to them.

I recently visited a homeless camp and asked different people why they didn’t choose to give up their pet so they could get into a shelter or housing. A common refrain was: “I can’t give them up, they’re the most important thing in my life. It’d be like me giving up a child.”

Those are the reasons pets are powerful emotionally.

Tell us more about the latest research.

There’s also a lot of evidence that’s emerging about how beneficial pets are to your health — physically, mentally, emotionally, socially.

There’s more emerging research that’s actually showing those effects on people like veterans with PTSD, Alzheimer’s patients and others. Part of the evidence that’s emerged is that pets actually have physiological changes on people.

Physiological changes, how?

our blood pressure goes down. Your blood cortisol, which is a stress hormone, goes down. Another hormone called oxytocin, which is a feel-good hormone, goes up. So pets really do have positive benefits on people and can decrease stress.

That’s especially important in today’s world where we have stress all around us.

“Zooeiya” is actually a term that’s been recently coined for the research evidence that shows the positive health benefits of interacting with an animal.