There is a reason why dogs (or any pet for that matter) are man’s best friend. After a long, difficult day, there is nothing like coming home to a furry face who is ecstatic to see you. However, there are more benefits to pet ownership besides the sight of a wagging tail. Over decades of study, scientists and doctors have discovered several surprising health perks to bringing home an animal friend.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is companionship, and by extension, improved mental health. Humans are naturally social animals and as such, we are better off medically and emotionally when we feel secure connections with other living creatures, pets included. Playing with our pets, as with any other pleasurable activity, increases our brain’s production of serotonin and dopamine—the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and calm 1. Recent studies have even claimed that oxytocin—the “feel-good” chemical that influences social bonding—is boosted in both dogs and their owners when they look at one another 1. Ultimately, pets chase away feelings of loneliness and isolation, which in turn reduces susceptibility to cognitive decline and disease. This has especially been observed in isolated elderly women and HIV-positive men with pets, as these groups suffer less from depression than those without pets 2. It certainly shows the merit of owning an emotional support and/or therapy animal.
It is extremely validating to come home to someone who is happy to see you, and can infuse you with a sense of meaning and purpose. No matter how you are feeling, your pet needs you to take care of them. This means your day will have at least some semblance of routine as you go through tasks such as feeding, grooming, and playing with your pet. This opportunity to take care of another living creature who is wholly dependent on you can have extremely beneficial effects on people, especially those who struggle with mental health 2.
Having a pet, especially a dog, can also increase your chances of finding human companionship 3. The responsibilities of pet ownership are likely to put you in contact with other pet owners; from going to the dog park or training classes, to just generally being outside, there are plenty of opportunities to socialize with others. Being with a pet can sometimes draw people over to you, as the pet may act as a natural icebreaker. While it is not advisable to own a pet specifically to be a date magnet, a pet can certainly be a useful tool in developing more bonds with your fellow humans 3.
Pet owners also reap far more physical benefits than non-pet owners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet ownership has been consistently linked to decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and, perhaps most obviously, feelings of loneliness 4.
Pet ownership increases opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities. A study published in BMC Public Health, stated that dog owners are likely to walk 22 minutes more a day than their non-dog owning counterparts 5. These extra minutes spent walking also showed moderate physical activity. Health experts recommend that adults get around 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise per week and dog owners are certainly more likely to hit this goal 2. This weekly exercise can also result in weight loss, improved heart health, and an overall fitter lifestyle. So, whether it is walking, jogging, biking, or hiking, go exploring and have many adventures with your pet 3.
Pets may also affect allergies—and not in the way you’re thinking. Despite the traditional thought of pets increasing the chance of an individual developing allergies (especially in children), many studies have indicated kids growing up alongside furred animals, are far less likely to develop allergies and asthma 6. James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently published a study wherein he analyzed the blood of babies immediately after their birth, and then one year later. In this study, children who share their homes with dogs were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies—by 33%! These children were also likely to develop stronger immune systems overall 6.
The demographic of people most likely to physically benefit from pet ownership are elderly individuals, especially those who live alone. Pet owners over the age of 65 are 30% less likely to seek medical help than those without pets 2. Furthermore, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology recently published a study stating that animal-owning seniors on Medicare reported fewer visits to physicians over a 1-year period than non-pet owners2. Aged individuals with Alzheimer’s have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a pet present in the home, which also reduces the stress levels of these individual’s caretakers 6.
There are an endless number of reasons to bring home a four-legged friend. Whatever your reason, you are likely to find a lifetime of benefits from simply offering an animal a bit of your love and attention.
- Pets have an overwhelming positive effect on your mental health—all the way down to the chemical level—as they make excellent companions.
- Pet companionship can increase your chances of finding human companionship.
- Pet ownership decreases your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels.
- Pets encourage you to be active, which in turn improves your overall health.
- Pets decrease the chance of children developing allergies and asthma.
- The elderly are most likely to benefit from pet ownership—especially if they live alone.
- Publications, Harvard Health. "The Health Benefits and Risks of Pet Ownership." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
- "The 10 Health Benefits Of Dogs (And One Health Risk)." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
- 3. "Top 5 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet." Animal Planet. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
- "Healthy Pets Healthy People." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
- Aubrey, Allison. "Dog Owners Walk 22 Minutes More Per Day. And Yes, It Counts As Exercise." NPR. NPR, 12 June 2017. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
- Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.