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What Pets Can Do for You

By: Virginia Wells

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These days stress seems to affect us all, and it can affect us physically by increasing our blood pressure or giving us headaches, for example. But very often it takes other psychological forms like fearfulness, apathy, self-doubt, and emptiness. Some people feel lonely, isolated and vulnerable.

Tests have shown that owning a pet can help people attain a better level of physical health. Petting your animal, be it dog, cat, rabbit or ferret, can lower your heart rate and your blood pressure and even promote healing. So can riding your horse or watching fish in an aquarium. In fact, many doctors keep aquariums in their waiting rooms to help lower anxiety levels of patients waiting to be examined. Also, recent studies show that having pets at work lowers stress levels and makes employees more productive.

But pets can help us in other ways, too. They help us to relax and focus on things other than our problems. No matter how depressed you might be, and no matter how much you want to curl up on your bed and stay there for the day, your pet can coax you out – even if only to feed him and let him out the door. When you have a pet, you can't drop out of the world; you have to stay involved.

Pets fulfill the natural craving we have for emotional relationships. Whenever we do something for another living thing, we feel better about ourselves. Here are some other ways pets make us feel better:

A Cure for Loneliness

Pets can help us to feel less lonely and isolated. Feeling needed also works to foster positive feelings. Ask the many elderly citizens or people living alone. Pets give a sense of purpose; they always need something – food, a walk, a stroke and a kind word, and they are usually appreciative. And as an added benefit, if you leash up your dog and take a walk through the neighborhood or through a dog-friendly park, more than likely someone will talk to you. Studies have shown that people walking with a dog talk to new people far more often than if the dog wasn't with them.

Coming home to your pet gives you something to look forward to. Dogs may score highest in "greetings," but most pets are delighted to see their owners walk through the door and will show it in some way. If you have a pet, you are not alone.

Someone to Love

If you love your pet, that love comes back to you tenfold. And it is love of the best kind – unconditional and enduring. And animals offer this love, along with reliable companionship – often for a lot less trouble than having a relationship with a human. Maybe you are overweight, or bald, or a little on the dull side; maybe you just yelled at your pup for overturning the trash can; or maybe you just lost your job. It doesn't matter to your pet; he loves you anyway. No matter how cranky you get, your pet always forgives you and continues to show affection.

Physical Contact

When your purring cat sits cuddled in your lap, all is right with the world. Cuddling and stroking your pet is good for you and helps you to forget about your bad day at work or your boredom. Your bird perched on your shoulder, your puppy licking your face, or stroking your horse's mane help to promote a sense of pleasure and calmness.

Someone to Talk To

It's a known fact that talking things out relieves a lot of internal pressure, but just having someone to talk to makes a difference, too. Talk about anything – your pet will listen, and, even better, he won't disagree. Share your thoughts, feelings, troubles, worries – or say something stupid – your pet will still love you. And you may find that by talking things out, you may come up with your own solutions.

Sense of Security

Certain animals promote a sense of safety. Your dog will bark to warn you of impending danger, and even your cat will wake you if there is smoke in the house. But the sense of having someone with you is often enough to make you feel less anxious and more secure.

Motivation to Move

If your pet needs to be walked every day, you'll be exercising – whether you want to or not. Walking with your dog also helps you to deal with the physical stress reactions you have acquired during your day. Walking gives you an opportunity to get outside and breathe fresh air. Go ahead, take a big breath and look around you. Let your pet teach you how to appreciate the outdoors.

The Human-animal Bond

The strength of the human-animal bond is not a myth. Although life with a pet is not always easy, the joy of pet ownership can be a wonderful experience. A snuggle from your cat or a slurpy kiss from your dog promotes very special feelings and creates a human/animal bond that can last for many years.

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