Can Owning a Pet Make You Healthier?
Eating an apple every day isn’t the only thing that may keep us out of the doctor’s office. Our pets can, too, according to studies done in the United States, Germany and Australia.1 Not only do pet owners visit their doctors less frequently than people who don’t own pets, but they also may reap other health benefits.
Pets make us happy and may help keep us healthy
As a pet owner, you’ve likely known all along what a growing number of studies show: For some of us, our pets can positively affect our health physically, psychologically and socially. Who can be sad or stressed out after a long work day or traffic-jammed commute when you’re being greeted with a wagging tail and barks of joy? Or the ankle-rubbing antics of a purring cat? The unconditional affection of our four-legged friends certainly can soothe a heavy and harried heart. Speaking of which…
Pets may be “heart healthy” in more ways than one
Many studies have explored the relationship between pet ownership and heart disease, prompting the American Heart Association to issue a statement based on a careful review of the available research.2 Although the results are mixed, studies indicate that pet owners often have lower blood pressure, experience smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure under stress, and are more likely to be alive one year after a heart attack than people who don’t own pets.
The heart-health benefits associated with pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may result from increased exercise and activity as well as less stress. When we own dogs, we’re more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity than those folks who don’t — assuming we do our own dog walking. The increased exercise also helps us lower our risk of obesity.
Even passive contact with pets can be beneficial. Petting a dog or watching fish in an aquarium can lead to lower blood pressure and slower heart rate. (So that’s why there’s an aquarium in my dentist’s office waiting room!)
Pets make our hearts (and brains) happy
Interacting with our pets increases our happiness and sense of security and self-worth.3 Pets can also give us an opportunity to nurture others. Dogs in particular are thought to be nonjudgmental, providing a calming, reassuring and comforting influence that can buffer the stresses of everyday life.4 Several studies suggest pets can help reduce depression, stress and loneliness3 and provide a sense of purpose, responsibility and structure that can decrease anxiety for some people. For those among us who suffer with anxiety, interacting with our pets changes our focus in a positive way that can result in a better quality of life.5
It’s worth mentioning here that spending time and interacting with our pets is key to benefitting from pet ownership.
Pets can help build social networks
Our companion animal friends may help us make more human friends, too. Pets can help us make new social connections, which are vital to our long-term health, by providing a common interest when meeting someone we’ve never met before. Research has found pet owners are more likely than those who don’t have a pet to meet neighbors they’d never met before and are more likely to make new friends as a result. In fact, over half of dog owners get to know their neighbors through their pet. More than 80 percent of dog owners talk with other pet owners while out walking.6 All of these connections produce feelings of emotional and social well-being and decrease feelings of isolation in today’s high-tech society.
Lower stress, fewer doctor visits, improved heart health, increased sense of well-being and more social connections are just some of the benefits enjoyed by pet owners. No wonder so many of us — 65 percent in the United States — share our homes with companion animals. How do you feel you’ve benefitted from having a pet? Be sure to head over to our Facebook page to tell us how your pet has helped to improve your health.
- Clower TL, Neaves TT. The health care cost savings of pet ownership. Washington, DC: Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation; December 2015. http://habri.org/pressroom/20151214. Accessed July 20, 2016.
- Levine GN, Allen K, Braun LT, Christian HE, Friedmann E, Taubert KA, Thomas SA, Wells DL, Lange RA; on behalf of the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing. Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013;127(23):2353-2363.
- Sable P. Pets, attachment and well-being across the life cycle. Soc Work. 1995;40(3):334-341.
- Hodgson K, Darling M, Kim FA. Pets’ impact on your patients’ health: leveraging benefits and mitigating risk. J Am Board Fam Med. 2015;28(4):526-534.
- Beck AM. Pets and our mental health: the why, the what and the how. Anthrozoös. 2005;18(4):441-443.
- Wood L, Giles-Corti B. Mulsara M. The pet connection: pets as a conduit for social capital? Soc Sci Med. 2005;61(6):1159-1173.