Here’s why pets can make you feel better

Our furry friends can make a big difference in the gut

Having a pet of any kind brings joy and love into an owner’s life, especially in a cold and dreary month like January. Perhaps that’s why January has been designated as National Walk Your Dog Month — to remind people to spend a little time with their pet.

There are many incredible benefits of pet ownership that can help people both emotionally and physically. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have determined that just watching an animal reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lowers blood pressure, which is important for those whose IBS is triggered by stress.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, people with IBS tend to also suffer from anxiety and depression. Because the colon is in part controlled by the nervous system, it tends to react to stress, which leads to either IBS-C or IBS-D.

Scott Hoye, PsyD, a clinical psychologist from Chicago Psychology Services, said there are many benefits associated to owning a pet.

“Animals can alleviate a number of issues we humans experience in the modern world,” he said. “For example, our body produces neurochemicals, such as oxytocin and endorphins when we are connecting with our pets.”

Oxycontin is a hormone that can help promote trust, empathy, and bonding in relationships. Endorphins are a type of hormone that serves as the body’s natural pain reliever. Endorphins tend to increase when people engage in reward-producing activities, such as eating, working out, or playing with their pets.

“Even before the advent of COVID-19, there was an increasing epidemic of loneliness,” Dr. Hoye added. “As a society, we have been increasingly isolated. More of our connections are through screen time and not one-on-one contact time.”

As expected, people began adopting pets when the pandemic began. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the number of American households with pets have significantly increased to 23 million. Most have discovered what Dr. Hoye have emphasized — “A pet can provide constant companionship and warmth.”

From a physical standpoint, pets also help people move more. Having a dog, for example, can elevate a person’s personal fitness, especially for those living in urban environments. Walking and running increases the number of steps they take a day and help burn more calories. An even bigger added benefit? Socializing with our fellow humans.

“Having a pet is an instant conversation ice breaker, whether you have your pooch with you at a park, or if you strike up a connection with a fellow bird, cat, rodent, or reptile lover,” said Dr. Hoye. “They help us to mingle with like-minded souls.”

The bond between a person and pet is a strong and undeniable. Animals have the ability to soothe and help people both mentally and physically. Even if a person doesn’t have a dog, just watching them play with their owners or watching videos of pets can help combat some of the triggers that can worsen IBS symptoms. After all, animals are healing.