Anyone who owns a pet knows how great it feels to come home at the end of the day to a dog that is completely ecstatic to see you, or to a cat that welcomes you with a quiet but insistent brush against your legs.
That sense of unconditional love feels fantastic, and the benefits of pet ownership don’t end there. Having a pet gives us an incredible variety of emotional, social and physical benefits.
1. Emotional benefits of pets
A pet’s unconditional love for their owner is the obvious emotional benefit of having a pet. That love can help us get through hard times like divorce, death or daily stress.
Pets also give us something to focus on beyond ourselves, keeping us present in the here and now when we might otherwise be distracted by difficulties or problems.
Pets can help reduce fear in pre-op hospital patients by 37 percent.1
In fact, many studies have shown that interaction with pets can help lower stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Simply petting a dog or cat can help reduce stress more than reading or talking with another person can. Pets can even help reduce anxiety and fear better than support from a human companion.10
2. Social benefits of pets
If you’ve ever taken your dog for a walk around the block, you know that they are people magnets! Studies have shown that pets can be great icebreakers – they provide the perfect excuse to talk to a stranger and can help conversations blossom.
Pet owners were 60 percent more likely than non–pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn’t known before.2
Pet owners also tend to be more extroverted, which can help people connect more quickly and easily with neighbors and people they encounter at dog parks or other pet-friendly spaces. Chitchat about our pets is definitely more interesting than small talk about the weather!
3. Physical benefits of pets
The good feelings we get from our pets translate to health benefits, too. Many researchers have examined the positive health benefits of pets on a variety of medical conditions. They suggest that having a pet might lower your blood pressure, decrease your risk of heart disease and decrease obesity.
Ninety-seven percent of physicians in family and general practice believe there are health benefits to having a pet.3
Pets, particularly dogs, can help encourage us to get up and get moving, too. Most health professionals recommend at least 30 minutes of physical exercise daily – the perfect amount of time for a dog walk.
1. Zisselman et al. “Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Patients' Anxiety, Fear, and Depression Before ECT Article” Journal of ECT 19(1):38-44 April 2003. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10870346_Effects_of_Animal-Assisted_Therapy_on_Patients'_Anxiety_Fear_and_Depression_Before_ECT.
2. Skerrett, Patrick J. “Pets Can Help Their Humans Create Friendships, Find Social Support.” Harvard Health Blog, 30 Oct. 2015. www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pets-can-help-their-humans-create-friendships-find-social-support-201505067981.
3. "2014 Physician Survey." HABRI, habri.org/2014-physician-survey.
4. hyper.ahajournals.org/38.4.815.full. Allen, Karen, Barbara E. Shykoff, and Joseph L. Izzo. "Pet ownership, but not ACE inhibitor therapy, blunts home blood pressure responses to mental stress." Hypertension 38.4 (2001): 815-820.
5. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829201e1. Levine, Glenn N., et al. "Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association." Circulation 127.23 (2013): 2353-2363.
6. habricentral.org/resources/34617"\t "_blank" Reeves, Matthew J., et al. "The impact of dog walking on leisure-time physical activity: results from a population-based survey of Michigan adults." J Phys Act Health 8.3 (2011): 436-444.
7. bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-016-1111-3. Brooks, Helen, et al. Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition." BMC psychiatry 16.1 (2016): 409.
8. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0122085. Wood, Lisa, et al. "The pet factor-companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation and social support." PloS one 10.4 (2015): e0122085.
9. psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-13783-001. McConnel, Allen R., et al. "Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership." Journal of personality and social psychology 101.6 (2011): 1239.
10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/. Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Andrea Beetz, Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, Henri Julius and Kurt Kotrschal.
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