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petI was lonely so I got a cat,” was the intelligent decision of a colleague living by herself after her children moved away.

Isolation and loneliness have long been believed to trigger anxiety and depression. Experiments conducted at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in November last year have validated this; they revealed that interacting with animals releases the ‘love and bonding’ chemical, oxytocin, in the body, which creates a sense of happiness and well-being.
The research also indicated that spending time with and caring for animals increases our serotonin levels (the ‘happiness’ hormone) as our focus shifts away from our own problems towards a pet that is completely dependent on us. This not only cheers us up, it also keeps our heart healthy, reducing the risks of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases.

As a result, psychologists in Pakistan are increasingly recommending that people keep pets such as fish and birds, which are believed to play a crucial role in reducing the frequency and severity of panic attacks. Therapists believe that this is a more sustainable cure for stress compared to antidepressants, which can cause long-term side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

Meanwhile, research conducted at the University of California’s Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that parents should give in to their children’s demands to keep a pet. Assuming responsibility for the care and upkeep of their pets from an early age not only helps children develop empathy and maintain self-esteem, which are crucial for maintaining stable and meaningful relationships as they mature, they are also believed to help curb rebellious and aggressive behaviour among teenagers.

And for those of you who have always wanted to exercise regularly but never found the time, consider keeping a dog. This will force you to ‘walk the dog’ daily in the open air, a far more pleasing prospect than sweating it out all by yourself at the gym.

– Arshia Ahmed

First published in the Health Advertiser of The Dawn Weekend Advertiser on January 25, 2015.