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Why Pets Matter: How Cats and Dogs Affect Our Lives

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National Pet Month celebrates all things pets. 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) are pets so important to us?

The Love Connection

As social creatures, humans crave companionship. We are tactile beings, relishing tactile 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 filled up our empty emotional tanks with the love we need to thrive.

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 in the world, are cherished, and feel special, our dogs and cats serve that up with 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, 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 bred for hunting, herding, and protection work alongside humans in recreational pursuits. We run with our dogs, play sports–flying disc games or flyball anyone?–and enjoy trick training together. Our canine professionals partner with animals in the military, as K9 officers in police departments, and volunteer tracking services for disaster relief.

Specially trained companion animals partner as guides for people who are blind, ears for people who are deaf, a steadying presence or extra hands for other-abled persons. We’re awed by and indebted to our animals’ special abilities that allow them to alert us to health challenges such as migraines, seizures, PTSD and diabetic issues.

Furry Prescription

But pets also benefit our health without any training. I exercise more when my Shadow-Pup insists on walks, and Karma-Kat demands playtime. Fun and games make us feel good, and benefit our own (and our pets’) mental health.

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 will recover more quickly and survive 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.

Social Lubrication

Pets keep us connected socially, too. Visiting the dog park brings us together with other dog lovers. Shopping at the cat food aisle prompts conversations about our special feline friends. Even when we feel awful, the love of a pet encourages us to reach out and stay interested in life and other people.

I received incredible support from friends and from strangers when we lost Bravo-Dawg because we’d connected over our common love for animals. That outpouring of understanding heals us, and interconnects us beyond human experience.

Dogs and cats 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 believe spending time with their people trumps anything else (well, maybe except for bacon or catnip). We are chosen family, and that means we celebrate National Pet Month all year long.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Amy Shojai (www.SHOJAI.com) is an IAABC-certified behavior consultant (cats/dogs) and Fear Free certified pet care expert. She’s the award-winning author of more than 35 pet care titles, speaks professionally, consults with the pet industry as a spokesperson, and is a produced playwright inspired by her furry muses.

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