The Power of Pets

Your animal BFF eases your stress—and you can ease theirs

The Power of Pets

Some of us can’t wait to unwind with a glass of wine at the end of a workday. But a little cuddle with a furry companion may work even better. Here’s why.

In times of stress, cuddle

“Animals are very intuitive and make themselves available in times of stress,” says Dr. Maja Kovacevic of Healing Paws Veterinary Care.

“Animals’ senses are much sharper than ours,” she adds.“Even though we may not always notice when we’re feeling stress and tension, our pets seem to. I believe they can smell protein hormones that are released through our skin, like pheromones or endorphins, so they know exactly how we’re feeling and try to comfort us.”

Big or small, pets calm us all

Whether you own a simple goldfish or something more exotic, like a bearded dragon, caring for a living thing sends your endorphins soaring. Dog owners in particular get the extra benefit of stress-reducing exercise by walking or running with their pets every day.

Fresh air, sustained cardiovascular exercise and socializing with other pet owners all add up to a win-win for both you and your dog. “Seeing our pets thrive makes us happy and reduces our overall stress,” says Kovacevic, “which then physiologically reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), improves heart function, keeps our blood pressure steady and improves circulation.”

How they show they care

Cats, especially, have a reputation for being aloof, but they really do care when you’re stressed. Those that are typically distant may sit on your lap or follow you around. Dogs, on the other hand, tend to become clingy and want to be petted, almost as if they’re trying to distract you from your thoughts.

The flipside of all this is that we have to be vigilant that our stress levels aren’t having a negative effect on our four-legged friends. “Since animals are so empathetic and highly tuned to their environments, it’s possible for them to misinterpret anxiety or tension in the air,” says Dr. Rehanni Khaseipoul from Vital Beings Holistic Veterinary Practice.

“Some animals show guilt behavior in stressful situations, like when people are arguing. They’ll think the anger is directed at them. Some dogs will hide, cower or pee indoors.”

Khaseipoul suggests trying to avoid exposing your pet to the raised voices and anger of arguments by leaving your pet in another room or outdoors for the duration wherever possible.

Stress can be bad for both humans and animals, so that cuddle at the end of a long day may do both you and your beloved pet a world of good.