By: MJ Fegan, PT, DPT, GCS —

Oh, how I love my dog and my horse! My faithful friends, Lucky and Takoda, have been a constant source of fun and excitement over the years.

They have a unique way of making me feel light-hearted and carefree. I feel blessed to be the owner of these two amazing animals and believe the animal-human relationship is a special bond.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way. According to the 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), sixty-eight percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet.

Having said that, owning a dog and a horse is a huge responsibility. You must exercise them, feed them, groom them and of course love them. They can also put a large dent in your pocketbook, but the rewards are great. Owning a pet has more to offer than just companionship. Pets decrease stress, improve heart health, and help with emotional and social skills. The American Heart Association has found a link between owning a pet—especially a dog—and reduced risk of high blood pressure and stroke, as well as a longer life span with fewer visits to the doctor over the years.

A 2009 study, published in the Journal of Hormones and Behavior, revealed playing with your dog can cause an oxytocin surge. Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle or bond socially. Other studies have found that just a few minutes a day petting or visiting with any animal lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Other benefits of having a pet include:

It is a gift to experience the joy of having a loyal companion. So, thank your pets today and show them some love!