01 FEB 2024

The Power of Pets

Man who appears to be in his 30s, crouching on the floor of his home to be eye-level with his grey short-hair cat. The man is smiling as his grey cat headbutts his nose in a sign of affection, obscuring most of the man's face.
From relieving loneliness in seniors to teaching children compassion — adopting a pet can be a powerful prescription for a happier, healthier family life.

What could be the best prescription for reducing stress, anxiety and depression? A four-legged friend!

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 68 percent of U.S. households have a pet, and research has shown over and again that the human-animal connection can be tremendously beneficial for both.

Studies show that interacting with furry friends decreases levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lowers blood pressure. Other studies have found that caring for an animal can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood. Other benefits include the increased exercise and social interaction realized from walking a dog, to the calming effects gained by petting a purring cat on your lap, or even watching fish gently swim around in a fish tank.

There are a number of ways that adults and children can benefit from bringing a pet into the family. Daily walks with your dog means physical exercise for you, too, which can also help with weight loss and improved sleep. For seniors, having a pet can help their owners feel needed, and can help relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation. A University of Michigan study also found that pets helped their senior owners keep their minds off pain and helped them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.

Families that walk their dog together — away from television, video games or cell phones — also gain valuable time to boost family dynamics and improve communication, according to Bruce Hewett, M.D., pediatrician for NorthBay Health Primary Care – Vacaville.

It’s also a good way for parents to demonstrate caring, responsible behavior, he added.

“A parent modeling caring behavior is the most powerful influence they can have on their children’s behavior,” he said. “So when a family shares the experience of taking good care of their pet, the children learn compassion and caring behaviors that result in happier relationships.”

While a pet isn’t for every family, it can be a wholesome, positive choice for many, he said. Considering adopting a pet? There are many waiting for happy homes at the Solano County Animal Shelter. But, before adopting, do know this is a long-term commitment, Dr. Hewett noted, and therefore should be given serious consideration.

If you're struggling with stress, anxiety and depression, talk to your primary care doctor about the care options available to you. NorthBay Health Primary Care patients can send their doctor a message through the patient portal, or call us at (707) 646-5500.

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