From companionship to home protection, caring for a household pet can enrich lives physically and mentally.

People have owned pets for thousands of years. Animals play many roles in our lives. For many of us, pets are family members. Some of our furry friends also have jobs within our homes. Guide dogs for the blind have a very special bond with their owners. Some pets provide security for homes or businesses.

It is clear that many pets respect and reciprocate this bond with us. Aside from the wagging tail or purring that greets many of us, there are also stories of heroic rescues by family pets. We’ve all read or heard tales of a dog saving a drowning child or a cat waking a family to save them from a fire.

Here are some of the amazing things that they do for us:

  • Spending 30 minutes with a dog triggers the release of chemicals in your brain that are linked to happiness.
  • Spending just 5 minutes with a dog lowers the level of cortisol in your blood stream, which is a hormone linked to stress.
  • Pet owners are less lonely and have a higher morale than non-owners. This may be because cuddling with a pet releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with love, trust and empathy.
  • Watching fish swim in an aquarium or stroking a cat or dog can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Pet owners also tend to have lower cholesterol levels.
  • One study has shown that cat owners are less likely to die from heart disease than people who don’t own cats. Another study showed that dog owners are nine times more likely to survive one year after a heart attack than those without dogs.
  • For children, owning pets can help them to develop empathy and respect for other living creatures. It also gives them an outlet to “talk” to someone about their feelings. Pets help children to develop better non-verbal communication and have proven to be very beneficial to improving social interactions of children with autism.

History shows that even if animals were originally in the home for a working purpose, strong emotional bonds developed between them and the members of the household. The unconditional love between human and animal often gives a sense of well-being to people that enhances their lives every day. When we bring a pet into our family we have a responsibility to them to provide them with as happy and healthy a life as we can. In return, they will provide us benefits we may not even realize we are receiving.

Pets provide real health benefits. Medical research has documented many positive impacts that cats, dogs and even fish have on our well-being.

Elizabeth Fowler, D.V.M., is a 1991 graduate of Texas A&M University. She lives in New Braunfels, TX, where she practices small animal medicine. She is currently in the process of building a new facility for her practice. She is passionate about the human-animal bond and enjoys being able to enrich her clients’ and pets’ lives. Dr. Fowler is a member of the AVMA, TVMA, CCVMA and AAFP.