Do Pets Make Us Happy?

Happy cat

Everyone wants to be happier. Every day we strive to take part in activities or do things that make us happy. As well as these day to day activities, there are more permanent fixtures in our lives which have been proven to make us happier. Furry fixtures, to be precise. Pets are a common feature of households, particularly in western society, and research has proven that sharing our lives with animals leads to increased happiness levels. Of course this depends on whether you like animals in the first place but, assuming you do, a pet can make you happy in many different ways.

Stroking pets boosts our neurotransmitters and happy hormones

The act of stroking an animal, whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster, horse or anything else, triggers the release of many ‘happy’ hormones including endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine and prolactin. It also increases the efficiency of our neuro-transmitters and makes our brains more receptive to these happy feelings. They quite literally make us feel happy when we come into contact with them, reduce our feelings of loneliness and increase our capacity for happiness.

Dogs make us more active

True, some people do take their cats for walks but let’s assume you’re sane. Dogs require exercise (if you’re not willing to walk it, don’t get one) and should be walked every day. Whether you take them to the park and throw a ball or go for a long walk by the river, this becomes part of your daily routine. And, as we know, exercise is good for you, improves your overall health and releases endorphins which make you happy. The regular routine of walking dogs also adds an element of order to our lives; as humans, we like order and routine, apparently.

Animals make us healthier overall

Research by the American Heart Association has linked pet ownership (dogs in particular) to reduced risk of heart disease. They were careful to not state owning a dog eliminates someone’s risk of heart disease but it can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. And of course there’s the fact that, as mentioned above, dog owners walk and stay more active than ‘dogless’ people. The use of therapy animals is also increasing worldwide. They can be used to offer those who are sick or suffering comfort and affection and are regularly found in hospitals and hospices. Dogs and horses are also used for people with special needs to improve their physical, emotional, behavioural, social and cognitive functions.

Animals improve our ability to empathise and make social connections

Interacting with your pet improves your ability to interact with people, it seems. Looking after your pet in the first place, taking care of its needs and having something dependent upon you (cats are dependent, even if they pretend not to be), can make us more empathetic. Additionally, when you are out and about with your pet (I’m thinking dog or horse here), you are more likely to say hello to other people you see with animals. Dog owners in the parks become friends as their pets do the same thing. Horse riding is also a social activity and riders who regularly see one another on bridal paths often develop arrangements to meet and ride out together. Even if you’re not with your pet, everyone can contribute to conversations which revolve around our pets and help to develop social connections and act as great ice breakers in a group of new people.

Pets are reliable sources of unconditional love and support

People, let’s face it, are flakey. Pets, on the other hand, are predictable, reliable and loving. We know our dog is going to be waiting patiently at the door when we get home from school or work. Even cats are always going to rock up at some point for their dinner, occasionally with a dead bird as a representative of their gratitude for your continued commitment to pouring food into their bowls. Pets are seen as a family member just like any person and we become accustomed and reliant on their presence and companionship. It’s just a shame their lifespans fall far shorter than ours because many pet owners report that they receive as much emotional support from their animals as they do from humans. Their loss, therefore, is equally devastating.

Other research shows that offices which allow animals in them are happier, less stressed work environments and improve workers’ job satisfaction. Students who live with dogs and or cats are less depressed and less lonely, and universities often now put on events where students can go and stroke animals during exam periods. Seriously, this happened in the library several times when I was at the University of Warwick. The queues were insane.

There are many things we can try and do in our lives to improve our happiness and getting a pet is an excellent and enjoyable ‘happy tip’. If you stumbled upon this article trying to find evidence to persuade your parents that you do need that puppy, you have my express permission to take my arguments to them. I spent years campaigning to get a dog and when I was twelve we finally got one. Now, fifteen years later, my sister and I had left home but Liza remains with my parents and they are completely smitten with her. It may have been me who finally wore them down and persuaded they to accept the new addition to our family but, in the long term, it has been my parents who spent the most time with Liza and she who remained at home after me and my sister fled the nest. She is, truly, part of the family.

Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.