Close relationships are not always with people. We often develop very close ties with the animals in our lives.
There has been plenty of research that affirms the health benefits of owning pets. It has been found that a person can boost his or her immune system in less than twenty minutes just by petting a dog.* The physical action of petting a calm animal can help lessen stress levels and may also temporarily lower blood pressure. And the healthy benefits don’t stop there.
Caring for a pet and nurturing the relationship is a responsibility that can help many older people feel useful and give them a sense of purpose they may might not otherwise get after retiring. Some people rely on walking their dog for regular exercise, and that often leads to social interaction with other dog owners.
Basic daily living activities generally decline more slowly when an elderly person has a pet. Studies have shown that pet owners live on average about two years longer than non-pet owners.
And the benefits are not limited to cats and dogs. Horse therapy is used to help troubled individuals learn such life skills as communication, trust and discipline. Autistic children often become more socially aware and interactive after supervised swimming and interacting with dolphins.
When we interact with animals everyone benefits. Just as people take care of the health of their pets, the pets take care of the health of their owners.
* Psychol Rep. 2004 Dec;95(3 Pt 2):1087-91