There's something incredibly comforting about coming home after a long day at work and being greeted with wet, slobbery kisses. For many people, interacting with a pet is the ultimate antidote to a stressful day. In fact, in one study, when people were presented with stressful tasks in four different situations -- alone, with their spouse, with their pet, or with both their spouse and their pet -- they experienced the lowest stress response and the quickest recovery in the situation where they were only with their pet [source: Grimshaw].
While stronger pet-owner bonds usually lead to the greatest stress relief, even brief encounters can create improvements. In one study, patients who spent a short amount of time with a dog before upcoming treatment operation experienced a 37 percent reduction in their anxiety levels, perhaps because the animal's presence helped distract them from their concerns [source: Grimshaw].
Indeed, multiple studies indicate that pets are powerful forms of stress relief, lowering not only blood pressure but also harmful stress hormones like cortisol, which is associated with depression and anxiety, and elevating beneficial ones like oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and relaxation [source: Grimshaw]. Some people experienced increased output of endorphins and dopamines after just five minutes with an animal [source: Odenaal].
And while it's usually the four-legged furries that get all the credit, other pets can help, too. Simply watching a fish tank versus a bare wall for 30 minutes lowers blood pressure significantly [source: Duncan]. Observing an aquarium can be an even more powerful relaxant than several proven meditative techniques [source: Lynch].