What would we do without our pets? We love our dogs, cats, guinea pigs, iguanas, rabbits, and snakes because they make us feel good. But why does being with our pets make us feel so much better?

It turns out there are a number of health benefits to owning a pet. They can help reduce our levels of stress, anxiety and depression because the feelings they stir in us increase our levels of feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, making us feel more calm and relaxed.

Understanding the pet effect

April 11 is National Pet Day. This day was first recognized in 2006 and was created by animal welfare advocate and family lifestyle expert Colleen Paige. Colleen believes that animals in shelters should be adopted as pets and given an opportunity to be loved and cared for. Pets make us humans happy and healthy.

Dogs and cats in particular are exceptional at cuddling and many won’t turn down a hug, stroke or scratch behind the ear. We are a perfect match with our furry family members because we both thrive from personal touch and interaction and are happiest in the company of our “pack”. In fact, there are so many health benefits to the connection humans and animals have, that it’s often referred to as the “pet effect”.

Pets can keep you physically and socially active

Studies suggest that those of us who are over 65 and have a pet make fewer visits to the doctor. We are more physically active when we take our furry friends for a walk every day and play with them at the park, for example. They also provide us with welcome companionship and help improve our feelings of loneliness by giving us a purpose and routine — they even help us to meet new people!

Owning and caring for a pet, like a dog or a cat, is a commitment and may not be possible for everyone based on their health or financial situation, or perhaps because of where they live. But it’s worth a visit to your nearest shelter, perhaps to fall in love with your new pet or just to get some of that “pet effect”.

Read more about the mood-boosting power of dogs, and about the “pet effect”.