by Carla Brown

Did you know that over half of all North American families share their home with pets?  And that more than half of that number have multiple pets?  Wow. . .

Pets have long been considered important members of our families, and most owners are well aware of the love and friendship they receive in kind.  But  pets can offer more than just companionship — many of us don’t realize the kind of healing power that caring for a pet can confer.

A University of Minnesota study showed that having a cat around the house reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 50 percent!

Recent studies have found that:

  • Heart attack patients with pets live longer than those without.
  • Playing with a pet raises serotonin and dopamine levels, making you feel more relaxed.
  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.
  • Pet ownership has been proven to decrease blood pressure levels.
  • Pet ownership can increase the frequency of exercise.
  • Having a pet adds structure and routine to your life.
  • Owning a pet helps people socialize more often.

As humans have a basic need to touch and be touched, they can experience positive effects by petting and cuddling their pets; and it’s a great way to calm yourself down.    Even simply watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce tension and stress.

This is not to say you should go out and adopt a pet immediately.  Pet ownership comes with many responsibilities.  And to best enjoy a happy life with a pet, it’s also important to choose one that’s right for your lifestyle and home environment.

If you’re not sure about what it takes to own a pet or who you might enjoy for a companion, many animal shelters offer short-term fostering opportunities.