Humans began domesticating dogs at least 8,500 years ago—probably longer, say some historians. The cat is a relative newcomer among house pets, joining forces with human beings around 3,600 years ago in Egypt. Whether you’re partial to cats and dogs or you’re a fan of more exotic companions, there’s no denying that pets have made a permanent home in our hearts.
Domestication is an excellent deal for both parties. The animals get a free meal, and we get unconditional love—unless, of course, you’re partial to iguanas and snakes, whose brains aren’t quite wired for affection. Nevertheless, studies find that pet owners experience less stress and better overall health. Children raised in homes with furry friends show greater signs of empathy, and some healthcare professions are successfully using dogs to help treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On a biochemical level, cuddling with a pet causes your body to release Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for bonding, building trust, feelings of well-being, and many prosocial behaviors. So if you haven’t hugged your pet today, take a moment and snuggle up to Fido or Fluffy. Your mental health may get a boost!