Why furry friends are good for us
Even among social and psychological researchers, there are “dog people” and “cat people”. Some advocate the benefits of dog ownership, and others swear by the love of cats, but there is one thing they all agree on: the many benefits of having a furry companion.
In terms of pet ownership, South Africa ranks ninth highest in the world, behind countries like the USA and India, but ahead of the UK and France. Pet ownership is on the increase because of a few factors, including more empty-nesters, single professionals, couples delaying having children, and even for reasons of safety and security.
Dogs are widely considered great pets because of their unconditional love and loyal companionship. The fact that they need to be walked daily gets us up off the couch and out into the world. And you’ll no doubt have seen people with dogs striking up conversations with other people with dogs. That’s because they also help us break down social barriers and reach out to each other. They’ve even been credited with initiating romance because research has found that women perceive men as more trustworthy and kinder, and therefore better relationship material, when they own a pet – especially a dog, but even more so a cat.
There are plenty of feelgood news stories about dogs barking for hours to get help when something bad has happened to their owner, or being trained to spot unhealthily high blood sugar levels on a diabetic owner’s breath, or providing comfort at a time of illness for a child.
Petting an animal, slows our heartrate and lowers our blood pressure, helping us relax and destress. It doesn’t really matter what kind of animal it is, but this gentle physical contact is good for us. Over time, this not only provides a valuable day-to-day coping mechanism, but it also helps to lower our risk of cardiovascular and other lifestyle disease. In times of trauma or emotional turmoil, animals have been shown to provide even greater comfort than humans. And it’s not only dogs or cats that are great at this. In regions of France, horse therapy is used as part of post-operative care in hospitals, and in some cases, horses are even taken into wards to provide the physical contact that has been shown to aid patients’ recovery.
Even a cat’s purr has therapeutic healing qualities. The frequency of the vibrations have a restorative effect on human muscle and bone, and have been used to great effect to improve the mobility of joints during the rehabilitation process after an injury. So the next time a cat crawls onto your lap, or wants to cuddle when you’re in bed – let them!