Are pets happy

Dog and cat: pets make you happy

The working day was stressful, the stomach growls and now this traffic jam too. But as soon as the key turns in the lock at home, someone meows behind the door and the end of the day starts all over again for the cat owner.

"A pet creates moments of happiness and can change the balance between everyday joys and annoyances for the better," says Prof. Reinhold Bergler, psychologist at the University of Bonn. But it doesn't work all by itself: only those who deal intensively with their animals will get something back from them.

Numerous studies have shown that pets can strengthen the psyche of people and improve their health. "An animal encourages us to speak, laugh and be tender. It activates beneficial feelings," explains Bergler, who is also the chairman of the research group for pets in society in Bremen. In 2004, researchers found that pet owners live healthier lives than people without animals: there were significantly fewer visits to the doctor with animal lovers.

"The prerequisite is always that there is a loving relationship between humans and animals," says Andrea Beetz, a psychologist from Erlangen who specializes in human-animal relationships. If someone dutifully feeds his dog regularly and takes him outside, but otherwise largely ignores him, then he must not expect any positive effects on the psyche.

If you spend a lot of time with your animal companion, you are doing yourself something good: "Animals calm us down. When petting a cat, for example, the breathing rate drops," says Heidi Bernauer-Münz, animal behavior therapist from Wetzlar. Even those who quietly watch their aquarium fish pass by, relax. But animals also get their owners on their toes. "Anyone who has a dog automatically moves in the fresh air," says Reinhold Bergler. Especially in patients with cardiovascular complaints, blood pressure or joint problems, a dog can indirectly contribute to recovery.

Why exactly many people like to have animals around them has not yet been clarified. However, many experts can agree on the so-called biophilia hypothesis: "We have a natural interest in animals because they have always accompanied us as food, livestock or threat in our development history," says Andrea Beetz. The longing for nature is deeply anchored in people, says Heidi Bernauer-Münz. "We bring nature home with a dog or a cat."

It is undisputed that children can learn to cater to the needs of other living beings by dealing with pets. "Animals strengthen their sense of responsibility and encourage communication between children," says Bernauer-Münz. It doesn't necessarily have to be a cat or a dog. Rabbits and guinea pigs are also particularly suitable for smaller children.

According to Bergler, many children find learning easier when they have a dog with them. This was confirmed by scientific observations: "The school performance in the comparison group of pupils with dogs improved significantly." When the dog lies on the floor next to the child, an atmosphere of calm and steadiness is created. "The presence of the dog disciplines and motivates the child."

Animals are not only used in therapy in the USA. "There are also different approaches to animals in Germany," says Heidi Bernauer-Münz. Some psychologists take dogs to the practice because they create a natural atmosphere. And in a casual conversation about his dog, the therapist may be able to establish a relationship of trust with the patient more easily, explains Andrea Beetz.

The institute for social learning with animals in Wedemark (Lower Saxony) offers therapies for mentally and physically handicapped children. Contact building, body awareness and the ability to concentrate are trained by petting and playing with donkeys, sheep or dogs. Disabled people often experience a new body awareness during riding therapy.

In the case of adolescents with eating disorders or who are abused, dealing with horses can increase self-esteem, says Andrea Beetz. Information on this is available from the German Board of Trustees for Therapeutic Riding (www.dkthr.de). According to Reinhold Bergler, there is still no scientific proof of the success of the dolphin therapies offered, especially in the USA. However, appropriate treatments are considered a way to treat disorders such as autism.

"Those who have an animal feel less lonely," says Andrea Beetz. The mute acceptance that animals show people is rare in human communication. After this communication, many dog ​​owners still see each other and it is not uncommon for none other than the four-legged friend to initiate them: Anyone who has a dog is approached more often on the street or at the bakery, says Heidi Bernauer-Münz. "The contact options are improving." And maybe after the first short chat about the dog, two animal lovers will soon be going for a walk with it. (dpa)