Many people cherish their pets as they do family members, enjoying their unconditional love, companionship, and occasionally silly antics. But pets do more than make people happy, they also reduce stress on a biological level.

Take even the simple act of petting your cat or dog, which research from the University of Missouri-Columbia has found changes brain chemistry in positive ways.

Petting animals leads the brain to secrete feel-good hormones and reduces levels of stress hormones, researchers discovered.

Hormones impacted through petting your favorite animal include serotonin, an important mood regulator, and cortisol, a stress hormone that’s part of the fight-or-flight response. High levels of cortisol can result in increased blood pressure and weakened immunity.

Biological changes aren’t the only ways pets reduce stress and improve mood. Think about the last time you walked in the door and saw your dog jumping up, happy to see you, or your fish merrily swimming in his bowl.

These displays of affection, even from animals, deepen the connections humans feel with their furry friends and reduce feelings of loneliness. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that lonely people experience more stress while completing everyday tasks than people enmeshed in social networks.

Pets provide an antidote to isolation, helping people to combat loneliness and reduce stress. 

They also help people laugh. Pets live in the moment, either while playing with a favorite toy, hunting birds or insects in the backyard, or occasionally chasing their tails or doing other ridiculous things. Laughter is a well-known antidote to stress and overall mood booster.

Dogs especially like to run, jump, and play. They also have an uncanny ability to lure tired owners out of the house for a nice walk. Taking a stroll through nature is another excellent way to reduce stress and improve overall health.

How do your pets help you manage stress? 

Image by Ryhs A. via Flickr


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