If you have a pet, you’ve probably already made up your mind: Having a dog or a cat around is a positive thing. And science backs you up on that! Over the years, hundreds of studies have pointed to the ways that pets improve our lives. There’s evidence that dogs boost your immune system. Some studies determined that your cat lowers your risk of heart disease. And researchers have found that pets can even make you a happier and better person, in addition to improving your health.
However, keep in mind that despite the statistical likelihood that your pet can improve your health, Fluffy and Fido are no substitutes for a physician or a psychologist. Some researchers remain skeptical that pets actually have a measurable impact on our mental or physical health at all.
Those caveats aside, read on to check out some of the most compelling evidence that your pets really do improve your life.
1. Pets improve your mood
Any pet owner probably has plenty of anecdotal evidence that owning and interacting with a pet can improve your mood. A review of numerous recent studies determined that there’s evidence for animals’ ability to promote a positive mood in the people who interact with them. And most people know that spending time with a dog increases your levels of oxytocin, also called the “love hormone.”
However, as Scientific American notes, oxytocin isn’t simple. Its effects depend on the situation, and it can produce opposite effects in different people. And in dogs, variations in the oxytocin receptor gene are thought to cause different behaviors toward people. Nonetheless, the release of the hormone does seem responsible for the feeling of a bond between you and your pet — which can definitely improve your mood.