Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

A woman with short grey hair sits on a tree stump mid-hike and kisses her dog on the forehead.
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4 minutes

Does Having a Pet Impact Your Health?

There’s more to having a pet than companionship. Studies suggest that pets have a positive effect on a person’s physical and mental well-being. This research is why many hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing facilities offer animal therapy. But you don’t need a doctor to prescribe a pet to reap the benefits of one. Whether you’re looking to help your loneliness or depression or need a reason to get outside more, there are plenty of benefits to bringing a pet into your home.1

Read More: Top Supplements For Your Pets’ Health

Pets Get Your Body Moving

You may be thinking dogs are the only pets that regularly get you outside for walks and playtime, but depending on where you live (and what you’re interested in), seeing a cat on a leash isn’t that unusual and tending to chickens or other farm animals make a sedentary lifestyle difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), having a pet increases a person’s opportunity for physical exercise and socialization.2 

Regular walks and playing with your animal are shown to decrease a person’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels3 — not to mention dog owners walk approximately 20 more minutes a week than individuals without dogs. Don’t have a dog? Try scheduling 10-20 minutes of play time each day with your feline friend that’ll get both of you moving more.  

Mental Health Improves With Quality Animal Time

Having a pet gives someone a sense of purpose — especially someone struggling with their mental health. No longer is their struggle with mental health their own, but a pet means another being is relying on them to be fed and taken care of as well. They also offer companionship for people who are otherwise isolated. 

According to a series of small case studies, patients diagnosed with mental or cognitive illnesses exhibit fewer behavioral disturbances and greater socialization in the presence of animals.4 For patients with dementia, animal-assisted therapy was found to stabilize symptoms like depression and agitation during 45-minute weekly sessions while patients who did not receive this treatment showed worsening symptoms.

But the benefits to a person’s mental health and cognitive function are not limited to nursing home patients and those diagnosed with dementia. The CDC notes that having a pet can help children with autism and other developmental disorders by improving trust and social behaviors. In one study focusing on the role of oxytocin and human-animal interaction, spending time with an animal has the potential to “significantly reduce depressive symptoms” and positively affects the nervous system response in individuals, lowering stress and improving mood.1 5

Pets Are Good For Your Heart (Health)

A pet’s impact on reducing stress is just the start of how pet-ownership can improve heart health. The simple act of petting a dog for three minutes was found to decrease the petter’s heart rate 55 minutes after the interaction ended6 — just three minutes! Even more notably, pet owners are generally at lower risk for cardiovascular disease7 and those who suffered from a heart attack have higher survival rates than non-pet owners.8  A national survey in Australia found that dog and cat owners make fewer annual doctor visits and are also less likely to use prescription medications for heart issues than non-pet owners.9

The effects of bringing a pet into your home are clear: your mood and physical health may benefit from having some type of companion to care for and spend time with. However, we also understand that not all living situations can accommodate a pet — whether you live in an apartment or facility that prohibits pets or someone in your household has allergies; or perhaps the cost of having a pet is prohibitive — but there are still ways to spend time with a pet without living with one and you can still reap the benefits. One study showed that simply being in the presence of a pet can reduce stress, blood pressure, and heart rate. So, you might consider opportunities to offer to pet-sit for your friends and family, volunteer at a local animal shelter, or sign up as a dog walker in your community. 

There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy an animal’s company — and give your health a boost — even if you’re unable to permanently bring one into your home. We’re just grateful science tells us what we knew all along: animal cuddles are powerful and necessary.

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