Holistic Health

Pets and Wellness

 “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anantole France

During an emotionally-challenging year, I adopted a kitten. After putting it off for years, I sensed it was time for a little furry companion. October 5, 2016 was a day that changed my life. I entered a pet adoption center and spoke with the assistant about everything cat-oriented: habits, essentials, behavior, health maintenance. I toured the facility, arriving upon a litter of siblings. One tabby kitten, in particular, caught my eyes. In the visiting room, Tavvy nuzzled next to me and seemed so delightfully happy. I chose her as my new pet – she would become so much more.

Being a pet owner helps my mental health in ways that medicine and traditional therapies don’t. In this post, I’ll describe the benefits of animal companionship.

Pets Foster Self-Growth

Pet therapy is widely used in treatment for the disabled and for veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D., “Pet Ownership and Mental Health”, Psychology Today, 4 March 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-first-impression/201303/pet-ownership-and-mental-health-0. Assessed 23 April 2019.). It’s also applied in children’s hospitals. Pets have proven to be healing agents for the elderly. They’re also instrumental in helping children learn about responsibility. Tavvy taught me accountability (her life depends on me) and helped me structure my days with routine tasks. I’m prompted to schedule priorities effectively. Apart from feeding her regularly, I work in time for things for myself, such as exercise, cooking, studying, socialization, and volunteering. Taking care of Tavvy means maintaining her health as well as mine.

Pets Keep Us Active

Studies have shown that owning and caring for a pet reduces blood pressure, improves immunity to allergies, and reduces plaque buildup in the arteries and subsequent risks for heart disease (Jeanie Lerche Davis, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health”, WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/health-benefits-of-pets#1. Assessed 23 April 2019.). It also reduces cholesterol. In short, pets keep us active. Tavvy helps reduce my levels of anxiety when I initiate playtime with her (the famous chasing-the-red-dot exercise). While beneficial for her physical system, it also engages me mentally and emotionally to see her having fun. Her unique personality is a welcome tension-release for stressful days. Laughter is the result when she sits atop the back of a chair and chases her tail through the spindles. She’s proven time and again to be a great source of comic relief.

Pets Teach Us Empathy

“According to a 2015 Harris poll, 95% of owners think of their animal as a member of the family.” (Mandy Oaklander, “Science Says Your Pet Is Good for Your Mental Health”, Time Magazine, April 6, 2017. http://time.com/4728315/science-says-pet-good-for-mental-health/. Assessed 23 April 2019.) We learn about unconditional love from our animal friends. It expands our tools for emotional wellness. They have the ability to offer empathy on our most challenging days, cuddling up to us as we ponder our myriad stresses. This pure act of compassion increases our feelings of connection, and reduces depression and anxiety over time. There is research about the calming effect of a cat’s purr. When Tavvy purrs, it helps me relax. Good rest is key to happier, productive, less-stressful days.

Animal companionship aids mental and emotional well-being. If we’re open to the challenges of responsibility, pets become our furry friends and return the love and nurturing tenfold that we give to them. They make us laugh, feel warm and connected, and help us grow through love and empathy. Pets keep us physically active. They engage us with distinctive personalities in a friendship that, for some, is incomparable. They’re also great conversation starters when meeting new people. I believe pet ownership is a worthy investment.

Perhaps no quote sums it up more than this one by Charles Bukowski: “When I am feeling low, all I have to do is watch my cats and my courage returns.”