Many of us have fond memories of growing up with a family pet. A loving dog, cat, or even a fish can provide comfort, teach responsibility, and add to the joy of life. In fact, there are a number of studies that suggest that people who own pets live longer and have better mental health than those who don’t.
It’s important to note, however, that a pet is not a cure for depression or other mental health issues. It can provide psychological and emotional support but is not a substitute for treatment by a psychiatrist or psychologist. Pets also can increase a person’s risk of exposure to germs. Keeping a pet in a home that isn’t regularly cleaned and maintained can lead to the spread of germs from animal to human, which can make you sick.
The most popular pets are dogs and cats, but there are plenty of other options as well. Small pets include hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits; rodents such as rats, mice, and gerbils; birds including parrots and songbirds; reptiles including turtles, snakes, and lizards; aquatic animals such as fish, freshwater snails, and saltwater snails; and amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.
In addition to providing companionship, a pet can help a child learn about the cycle of life through interaction with its birth, death, illnesses, and other natural events. This experience teaches compassion and understanding of other living things, as well as how to deal with loss.
Some research suggests that having a pet can improve your mood and lower stress, especially when you interact with it on a regular basis. Other research shows that people who own pets have a lower blood pressure and fewer heart attacks. Some experts believe that this is because the close interaction with a pet helps to reduce a person’s stress, anxiety, and depression.
One study that looked at the effects of pets on depression found that those with dogs were less depressed than those without dogs, and the benefits were greater for women. Another study found that a pet can lift the spirits of children with autism, allowing them to connect with others in a more meaningful way.
Other research is looking at how pets can affect the health of older adults. For example, there are programs that match seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with a trained therapy dog. The goal is to give the patient a sense of purpose and belonging through interacting with their pet. Another area of research is looking at how pets can help people with disabilities such as arthritis, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. This type of research may lead to a day when doctors will “prescribe” a pet for a certain patient population.