Junior Lauren Heiges felt a another familiar wave of stress as she graded essays for the SAT prep class she teaches at Howard High School when a furry friend decided to interrupt her. Her cat hopped up on her bed and plopped herself down on the keyboard of her laptop, demanding Heiges take a break from her stresses.
Heiges says Ripley, her eight-year-old Maine Coon cat, makes her feel more relaxed in her stressful life as a working college student.
“I like the constant companionship,” Heiges says. “It lightens your mood drastically having a pet. If you’re stressed out, and you come home and you have your pet, it just makes everything better.”
What Heiges feels when she is around her cat is not surprising. Having pets, even if they are aquarium fish or reptiles, has been shown to promote a multitude of health benefits, according to The American Institute of Stress (AIS). The AIS suggests that taking care of other living things, even the plants in your garden, can curb the effects of illness, depression and loneliness. The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) backs up these claims and specifically suggests that having a dog or cat can have a direct impact on your stress levels.
Under stress, having your dog in a room with you can lower your blood pressure better than taking certain blood pressure medication, according to the NCHR. Simply having a dog or cat by your side can also improve performance during stressful activities as your pet helps you relax. One study, published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, found that employees who brought their pet to work had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and employees who did not have a pet had double the stress levels as their pet owning coworkers.
Having a pet, especially a dog, can even help people live longer. A study from the American Heart Association (AHA) found that having a dog lowers the risk of heart disease. Dogs help their owners be more active, which is why dogs may be more beneficial than any other pet. They can also offer more affection than other animals, which in turn lowers stress levels and heart rates. Dogs owners even have a higher chance of surviving a heart attack, according to the AHA.
Because of these health benefits, nursing homes, hospitals and even prisons are using therapy dogs to aid in treatment and rehabilitation, according to NBC News. More colleges are bringing therapy animals to their campuses to help students cope with stress and trauma, and even the university has offered “Paws for a Break” activities with friendly dogs in an effort to lessen stress for students during finals week.
Heiges, who has had dogs and cats throughout her life, cannot imagine life without a pet. She has felt the benefits of having pets, and Heiges, like many other pet owners, never wants to lose the comforts of pet ownership.
“Without a pet, I would be sad and lonely,” Heiges says. “It gives me something to do. I have a purpose.”