The Health Benefits of Companion Animals
By: Heba Youssef, pre-licensed clinician
For many of us our companion animals are more than just house pets, they are family. In research that was recently conducted on the physical and psychological advantages of interactions with companion animals, it was found that not only are our beloved pets cute as can be, they are actually good for our health! The field of psychoneuroimmunology has established that positive interactions and physical contact with animals have a wide variety of health benefits including mitigating some of the negative effects associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. Oftentimes when we are suffering from severe depression, anxiety or acute stress, there is a release of high levels of cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone. This can cause our immune system to become dysregulated and our bodies more susceptible to certain illnesses. When high levels of cortisol are released, we become increasingly prone to physiological irregularities like headaches, trouble with our sleep cycle, or may have bowel irregularities. We can also become more susceptible to contracting certain sexually transmitted infections, like herpes. However when we have a positive interaction with our companion animal(s) like petting or cuddling our pup, there is a release of certain biochemicals known to boost the immune system. Fifteen minutes with a companion animal stimulates the release of neurochemicals in the brain and body including oxytocin which can help reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. Just fifteen minutes can positively impact our memory, our self-perception, and our social skills, as well as increase our mood regulation and energy levels. Endorphins are released which can support our body in experiencing relief from pain and stress. Dopamine, which is associated with the pleasure center of our brain, increases as a result of positive interactions with our companion animals, and when dopamine levels are elevated it makes it easier for our brain to experience pleasure and reward. Additionally, these positive interactions with our companion animals can help reduce cortisol levels, thus lowering stress and contributing to the balance and restoration of our overall health. Comment below with your favorite ways to spend time with your companion animal(s)!
Hunjan, U. G., & Reddy, J. (2020). Why companion animals are beneficial during COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Patient Experience, 7(4), 430–432. https://doi.org/10.1177/2374373520938904