October is National Pet Wellness Month which celebrates caring for our pets. That means you’ll want to:
Schedule a visit with your veterinarian
Watch your pet’s weight
Don’t skip exercise
Keep up-to-date with pet prevention
Invest in pet insurance
But for me, it goes beyond that. For those who adore cats and dogs or other critters, our animal companions impact us in so many ways we can’t imagine living in a world without them. That begs the questions, how (and why) pets are so important to us. I covered this a bit in what makes people happy, but wanted to go beyond that post.
The Love Connection
As social creatures, humans crave companionship. We are tactile beings, relishing contact with others. During the COVID pandemic, with opportunities for human contact curtailed, our pets became even more important. While we couldn’t reach out and touch each other, petting a beloved dog or cat, horse or hamster filled up our empty emotional tanks with the love we need to thrive and survive.
Pets provide emotional support. Cats and dogs don’t care if we’ve lost our job, wear no makeup, or haven’t brushed our teeth yet. They may actually enjoy pungent breath or smelly socks. When we need a moral boost that we matter, are cherished, and to feel special, pets serve up abundant tail wags and rumbling purrs.
Hey, it’s science. The “love hormone” oxytocin increases during interactions with our pets. This brain chemical strengthens the bond between human lovers, mothers and offspring of many species, and appears to work in a similar manner between people and their pets. Bottom line, we love pets because they love us back.
Partnering with Pets
Today, dogs purpose-bred for hunting, herding, and protection work alongside humans in a variety of recreational pursuits. We run and bike with our dogs, play sports–Frisbee or Flyball anyone?–and enjoy trick training cats and dogs. Professional canines partner with people in the military, as K9 officers in police departments, and volunteer tracking services for disaster relief. Cats learn to search and find missing felines or other pets.
Specially trained companion animals also partner as guides for the blind, ears for the deaf, and as a steadying presence or extra hands for other-abled persons. We’re awed and indebted to our pets’ special abilities that allow them to alert us to health challenges like migraines, seizures, PTSD, cancer, and diabetic issues, often without any training.
But pets benefit our health in other ways. I exercise more when my Shadow-Pup insists on walks, and Karma-Kat demands playtime. Fun and games makes us feel good emotionally, too.
People with pets also get sick less often and recover more quickly than those without animal companions. Babies and kids develop fewer allergies when they grow up with a cat or dog. A pet owner who suffers a heart attack recovers more quickly and survives longer than those without pets.
The “pet effect” also helps lower blood pressure. Petting and stroking any friendly dog or cat lowers blood pressure. But when you live with a pet, the research indicates you’ll suffer only half as much blood pressure increase when stressed compared to those without a pet.
Pets keep us connected socially. Visiting the dog park introduces us to other dog lovers. Shopping at the cat food aisle prompts conversations about feline friends. Even when we feel awful, the love of a pet encourages us to reach out to others, and stay interested in life and people.
I received incredible support from friends and from strangers when we lost Bravo-Dawg to cancer, because we’d already met over our common love for animals. That outpouring of understanding helped heal the pain in a way other relationships couldn’t touch.
Pets rely on us for everything. And yet they give back to us so much–dare I say, more than they receive. They live each day expecting the best, and act like time with their people trumps anything else (well, maybe except for bacon or catnip).
We are chosen family. That means we celebrate National Pet Wellness Month all year long.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!