More than two-thirds of U.S. households are home to at least one pet. But even though there are so many pet-friendly homes in the country, most people are probably unaware that their pet is much more than just a furry best friend. Pets also help reduce your stress (and lower your blood pressure and heart rate), just by virtue of living with you [source: Whiteman].
Florence Nightingale was the first to recognize the benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT), noting that pets help lower patients' anxiety levels. Therapists today use AAT to help patients not only reduce their anxiety, depression and stress levels, but also to provide emotional, physical and social benefits for people living with conditions such as autism, chronic pain and dementia.
Animal therapists use critters from dogs and horses to dolphins and llamas in therapeutic settings such as hospitals, mental health facilities and nursing homes. They also administer animal therapies in rehabilitative environments such as prisons. Spending just 12 minutes with a therapy dog helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system in patients with advanced heart disease, which results in reduced levels of anxiety, reduced levels of the flight-or-fight hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, and better cardiopulmonary performance.