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Did you know that there are proven health benefits of having a pet? If you're lucky enough to be a pet parent, you know there are benefits to owning pets, like having a friend who's always happy to see you walk through the door. But, apart from the daily joy your dog or cat brings you, pets can benefit your health and wellness in several ways.
Pets are family, and your relationship with them can improve your health in several ways. This article will discuss the scientifically-proven health benefits of owning a pet. Let's get started.
- Physical Health Benefits Of Pet Ownership
- Mental Health Benefits Of Pet Ownership
- What To Consider Before Getting A Pet
- Final Notes
Physical Health Benefits Of Pet Ownership
Pets can contribute to your physical health, and not just because they require daily exercise and play. Here are a few physical health benefits of having a pet:
1. Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
While your cat or dog can fill your heart with love, they provide scientifically proven heart-health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. According to a study on pet ownership and cardiovascular disease risk factors, pet owners in a clinic population had lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease.1 Additionally, participants in these studies had no difference in body mass index (BMI), self-reported smoking habits, or socioeconomic profiles.
Another study found that pet ownership may protect against the risks and consequences of heart disease.2 Evidence suggests that owning a pet is associated with improved survival after a coronary event like a heart attack.
2. Improved general health and increased activity in kids
Adults aren't the only ones who benefit from pet ownership. Dogs and cats may improve general health while increasing activity in kids. A study on the health benefits of dogs and cats for children noted significantly healthier children in pet-owning households than non-pet households in terms of general health, higher activity levels, and less concern from parents regarding mood or learning ability.3
3. Increased activity level
Overall, pets can increase your activity level. If you have a dog, you probably go on daily walks for their overall health. However, those walks also benefit you. Meanwhile, if you have a cat, you probably spend more time playing with them and being active indoors. In any case, owning a pet may increase physical activity, as several studies have demonstrated that adults who own a pet are more active.4
For example, a California study determined that individuals who owned a dog walked more as a leisure-time activity, adding an average of 20 minutes more physical activity than individuals who didn't own a pet.4
4. Lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure can be dangerous for your health by increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke as the heart works harder to pump blood. Unfortunately, there are many risk factors for high blood pressure ranging from unhealthy lifestyle choices to stress and underlying illnesses. That said, one significant health benefit of owning a pet is that they may lower your blood pressure.
A study on the cardiovascular reactivity and presence of pets, friends, and spouses showed that people with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels during a resting baseline and a smaller increase from those levels. Even better, pet owners had the lowest reactivity and quickest recovery when their pets were present.5 Therefore, the simple act of being a pet parent can benefit your heart, but as we can all agree, being around them is even better.
Mental Health Benefits Of Pet Ownership
Many pet parents report being happier and less stressed around their pets. Of course, the simple act of coming home and seeing them after a long day can help you forget about work stress, but what are the scientifically proven mental health benefits of owning a pet? Let's take a look.
5. Reduce stress and improve coping
If you own a pet, you already know how relieved you feel when you're around them. Petting your cat or dog can relieve stress for both of you, and studies prove it. Pets can help with stress responses, especially in women.6
Additionally, researchers studied oxytocin and cortisol levels in dog owners and their dogs. Oxytocin is the love hormone responsible for those warm, fuzzy feelings associated with falling in love. Meanwhile, cortisol is the stress hormone, and too much of it can raise blood sugar levels, cause anxiety, and suppress immune system responses.
However, the 2017 study showed oxytocin and cortisol levels in dogs and their owners are associated with how they interact and the behaviors caused by the interactions.7 Simply put, interacting with your dog can increase oxytocin levels while decreasing cortisol levels to help you feel less stressed.
6. Improve psychological health
Psychological health refers to emotional well-being, including depression, anxiety, sleep, and sleep disturbance. A recent study of the psychological health of cat owners demonstrated that pets might improve psychological health. In this study, cat owners had better psychological health. However, they didn't find significant differences in depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbance.8 Therefore, pets may generally improve your psychological health, but more research is needed to determine in what ways and how much.
7. Reduce feelings of loneliness
When you have a pet, you're never alone. Whether your dog follows you around from room to room or your cat always finds a way to snuggle up on the couch, you'll always have a furry friend nearby. According to a study on loneliness and pet ownership among single women, pet ownership can reduce feelings of loneliness.9
8. Supports and improves communication skills in kids with developmental disorders
Pets are a source of comfort for many kids, and they may benefit children with developmental disorders by enhancing communication skills. Animals help children feel safe, and kids with feline or canine companions always have someone they can turn to. A recent study on kids with developmental disorders showed that dogs enhanced communication skills in 40 children more so than toys, with the children showing greater levels of environmental awareness.4
9. Improves symptoms of dementia and depression in seniors
Dogs and cats aren't just beneficial to our emotions; they can improve brain health and activity, even reducing the severity of symptoms of dementia and depression in seniors.
A study evaluated animal-assisted therapy in nursing homes residents with dementia, with results showing stabilized symptoms of depression and agitation over two and a half months after weekly 45-minute sessions where they petted and groomed a therapy dog.4
10. Increases feelings of social support
Mental health professionals agree everyone should have someone they rely on, whether it's friends, family, coworkers, or pets. If you're like most pet parents, you talk to your pet, and even though they can't give you advice, they can offer many of the same mental health benefits as when talking to a friend. Dogs and cats can't talk to you the same way a friend might, but they can provide you with the same level of social support by decreasing cortisol levels and lowering blood pressure while reducing feelings of loneliness.10
What To Consider Before Getting A Pet
Pets offer a variety of mental and physical health benefits. However, even though getting a pet might benefit your life, you must consider if you can provide your pet with similar benefits. Being a pet parent isn't a one-sided relationship. Your dog or cat will provide comfort, love, and affection, but they'll rely on you for everything, including food, shelter, mental stimulation, exercise, and vet visits.
Therefore, while the health benefits of having a pet might be exciting, you should always consider your lifestyle and resources to ensure you can offer the best for your pet. Some considerations you should make before getting a pet include the following:
- Lifestyle: Sometimes, pet ownership isn't the right option because of your lifestyle. For example, if you're away from home for more than 10 hours a day, having a dog or cat likely isn't right for you because animals need companionship, exercise, and consistent schedules. However, there are options for busy pet parents, such as hiring a daily dog walker or pet sitter to feed, comfort, and engage with your pet while you’re away.
- Home: Your pet's living space is crucial for their overall mental and physical health. For example, if you have a small apartment and want to get a dog, you'll need to walk them multiple times a day to ensure they can relieve themselves while getting enough exercise. Additionally, some dog breeds don't make good apartment dogs because they're too high-energy and usually do best with a yard of their own.
- Finances: Always calculate the cost of pet ownership before you commit to ensure you can budget enough money for your pets. Several one-time and recurring costs are included in the cost to adopt a dog, including vet visits, toys, treats, food, bedding, crates, leashes, collars, and harnesses.
- Time: Every pet parent needs to make time for their pets, especially if they decide to adopt a dog. Dogs need to relieve themselves outside at least three times a day, and high-energy breeds may require extensive training. If you have limited time, a cat might be a better option because they don't require as much training and can spend more time independently.
Are you happier if you have a pet?
Many people are happier with a pet, but pet ownership isn't for everyone. Since pets are a huge responsibility, many individuals don't have the time or patience to train dogs. However, they might be better suited for cats. That said, no matter what type of pet you have, you must ensure you spend time with them every day and can provide them with enough exercise and mental stimulation.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a pet?
To us, there are no disadvantages to having a pet. According to pet adoption statistics, there are over six million pets in shelters who need good homes, and becoming a pet parent can help you improve two lives—yours and your pet’s.
The advantages of owning a pet include everything from stress reduction to being more active, but pet parents will tell you there's no better feeling than seeing your dog or cat after a long day. If you want to increase the love in your life, a pet might be the perfect companion for you.
That said, pets are a huge financial and emotional responsibility. Many people are surprised by the cost of vet visits and pet food, treats, and toys after it all adds up. If you can't ensure you can pay for your dog or cat's care if something arises, pet ownership might not be right for you. Additionally, having a pet can be stressful in the short term. Some pets have behavioral problems, which might cause them to act out, and training takes time. However, if you are committed to being the best pet parent, you can improve your pet's life while reaping some of the health benefits of pet ownership.
Why are pets important?
Pets can teach children responsibility while giving them a friend who will always be there for them. Additionally, they provide mental and physical health benefits to children, adults, and seniors. Of course, some people aren't pet-people, and there's nothing wrong with that. But, before you adopt a dog or cat, you should determine whether you can commit time and money to ensure they have the best life possible.
Pet ownership provides many mental and physical health benefits, and becoming a pet parent can help you save a life. However, being a pet parent comes with a lot of responsibility. You must be prepared to take on behavioral or health problems and the financial burden of pet ownership before deciding to become a pet parent. Additionally, while your dog or cat may provide you with health benefits, the relationship should never be one-sided.
Your pet needs quality care, and if you're a new pet parent, you might not know what that truly means. Don't worry; Dutch telemedicine for pets can help. Our online pet care services can help you ensure the health and wellness of your pets from the comfort of your home. We can diagnose and treat common pet ailments, including behavioral problems like anxiety, to help your pet live a happy, healthy life. Try Dutch today.
Anderson, Warwick P, et al. Pet Ownership and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.5694/j.1326-5377.1992.tb137178.x.
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Allen, Karen, et al. “Presence of Human Friends and Pet Dogs as Moderators of Autonomic Responses to Stress in Women.” American Psychological Association, https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1992-04617-001.
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“Psychological Health in a Population of Australian Cat Owners.” Taylor & Francis, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/089279393787002385.
Zasloff, R., and Aline H. Kidd. Loneliness and Pet Ownership among Single Women . https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.19220.127.116.117.
“The Power of Pets.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 July 2022, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets.