Can Pets Improve Your Health?


Dogs may hold the title of “man’s best friend,” but cats and other pets are pretty stellar companions too:

For anyone who has ever owned a pet, the joy, entertainment, and love they bring are undeniable.

But the big question is, can pets improve your health? And the answer is yes.

Thousands of years ago, humans and animals lived, worked, hunted, and played together.  They teach us compassion, patience, and to have fun.

Playing and interacting with our pets enriches not only our lives but also our health.  Medical science, more than ever, understands the growing evidence pets provide for all of us.

For instance, the friendship of pets is especially important to people living with depression or other mental health problems:

In an analysis of 17 different studies, researchers found that pets provide comfort; alleviate worry, loneliness, and isolation.  They also increase physical activity and provide a distraction from symptoms in people with mental illness.

Are pets for everyone?

Obviously, not everyone can or necessarily should have a pet.  But for those who can and are contemplating what pet to get, consider what kind of pet would be best for you:

  • Dogs are the most popular pet in the United States but any dog owner will tell you, they do require a lot of time.  They need companionship, interactive play, training, and exercise. If you are unable to provide those needs for a dog, then another pet may be better suited.
  • Cats are another popular pet and may be a better choice for someone looking for a more low-key animal to keep. Unlike dogs, most cats don’t require as much interaction but they can still be an excellent companion.
  • For those who want a pet that can be left alone for long hours and needs little interaction but yet still provides entertainment, they could consider fish or birds as a pet.

Why pets provide health benefits?

Research has shown that human-animal interaction involves a number of positive health benefits. Pets give us so much more than just their love and devotion, they can literally be giving us the gift of health.  Here’s how:

  • Having a pet can help lower blood pressure
  • Studies have found pet ownership to help lower cholesterol
  • People who have had a heart attack have a higher chance of survival if they own a pet
  • Pets provide a distraction from stress and worry
  • Pet owners have fewer visits to the doctor
  • They provide relief from boredom, loneliness, and depression particularly in older adults
  • Caring for a pet promotes the release of oxytocin, a chemical produced in the brain enhancing bonding between the pet and the owner
  • Snuggling with a pet lowers the release of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Social opportunities are enhanced by owning a pet as they connect us to others
  • People with dementia tend to behave less aggressively and engage with others more positively when they interact with a pet
  • Pets provide an outlet and motivation for people to get in regular exercise, especially if they own a dog.

Are there downsides to pet ownership?

There can always be a potential downside to owning a pet.  Before you invest in getting one consider if you have the time and can afford to care for a pet.  All animals will need to be fed, housed, groomed, and taken to a veterinarian regularly.

Pets, particularly dogs, will need proper training so as not to become unruly or hard-to-handle animals. Untrained pets can do damage to a home, or inflict human injury from scratches or bites. Pets can also be a fall hazard for anyone who accidentally trips over a pet, resulting in broken bones and a long recovery.

If you decide pet ownership is the right choice for you, have fun picking out the perfect pet providing hours of entertainment but also multiple health perks as well. 

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