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How can owning a pet help relieve stress?

UCLA Health People Animal Connection (PAC) Program
Alternative & Complementary Medicine Specialist

The stress-related hormone epinephrine has been shown to be reduced in people who own a pet. Also, having a pet is known to reduce a person’s blood pressure as well as anxiety, further relieving stress.

Dr. Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

A bad day can instantly dissolve when you get home from work to be greeted by a loving friend who is happy to see you. The benefits of de-stressing don’t end there: interaction with pets reduces overall levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A study that recorded the neural activity in seniors while they walked with a pooch found that this gave them a boost in parasympathetic nervous system activity, the system that helps calm and rest the body. Less stress equals a longer life, so keep good company.

When your dog bounds towards you with the unbridled excitement equivalent to a celebrity spotting and gives you one big, wet lick on your cheek the minute you come home, it’s hard to imagine a better instant mood-booster.

Alan Beck, PhD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and his co-researcher Aaron Katcher found in the early '80s that when people interact with dogs, “you actually get a drop in blood pressure—a true relaxation response,” he says. More recently, researchers in Japan found that dog owners who were bonded to their pets experienced a spike in oxytocin—a neurotransmitter that helps us cope with stress—from simply meeting their dogs’ gazes.

We’re social animals, so we gravitate toward this kind of bonding behavior: “Every culture has touch as a positive thing, because social animals have to be near each other,” Beck says. Feeling a bit stressed? Try taking a few moments to pet or cuddle with your pup. He’ll benefit from it, too.

"The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too," Samuel Butler, the novelist, once said. As we age, it’s so easy to get caught up in our work and our daily list of “to do’s” that we forget how to play. If you let him, your dog can be a portal into a more visceral, imaginative, emotional world—and a less self-conscious one.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.