The Physical and Mental Health Benefits Associated with Pet Ownership
Caring for a pet, especially cats and dogs, have many associated health benefits including reduction of stress, anxiety and depression. They also help ease loneliness by providing companionship, encourage owners to exercise and may even improve our cardiovascular health.
Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
Studies have demonstrated the following:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets
- Pet owners have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets
- Playing with a pet can raise levels of serotonin and dopamine, which help to relax and calm a person
- Pet owners tend to have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without pets
- Pet owners who have had a heart attack tend to survive longer than those without a pet
- Pet owners aged 65 and older make approximately 30% fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets
Pets fulfill a very basic human need for touch; by stroking, hugging or touching a loving pet, we are calmed and soothed when feeling stressed or anxious.
Caring for a pet can also encourage you to make healthy lifestyle changes which can be very important in helping to ease symptoms of various mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, stress and PTSD.
How Pets Help Us Make Healthier Lifestyle Choices
- Whether it involves taking your dog for a walk or a hike, incorporating daily exercise into your schedule results in a win-win for both pet owner and pet as you both keep fit and healthy
- Whilst isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression, the companionship associated with caring for a pet has the opposite effect and helps you to feel needed and wanted
- Pets can help pet owners meet new people, especially whilst out on walks, in the dog park or in training classes
- Pet companionship can help people to build self-confidence and ease anxiety by promoting mindfulness and being in the present moment
- Many pets need to have a consistent schedule regarding feeding and exercise, and this translates in helping people to stick to a consistent routine
- Stroking a pet can help lower blood pressure and feel calmer by providing stress relief
How Older Adults Can Benefit from Pet Ownership
- Finding meaning in life helps to boost morale and encourages a sense of self-worth
- Helps older adults to maintain a social network, especially in the case of dogs, who act as a conduit in meeting new people or helping to start a conversation
- Pets can encourage playfulness and laughter, which helps to boost the immune system and increase energy levels
Children also benefit from growing up with Pets.
- There is less risk of allergies and asthma in children who live with pets
- It encourages them to learn responsibility and compassion
- It helps to ease separation anxiety, especially when their parents aren’t around
- It helps a child feel important and develop a positive self-image
- Children build better relationships with people by being emotionally connected to their pets
- Pets have been shown to help calm hyperactive children
- Pets can help children to learn by stimulating imagination and curiosity
- Caring for a pet can bring immense joy to a child!
Whilst all these benefits come from pet ownership, it must not be understated that owning a pet is a huge responsibility both monetarily in terms of food, veterinary care, grooming, toys and other maintenance expenses, but pets also require time and attention, including adequate exercise and social interaction outside of the home. Pets also can carry health risks for some people, such as allergies.
However, owning a pet can be a unique and rewarding experience. If you are considering getting a pet, remember to select a pet that best suits your needs and lifestyle. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Do you live in a small flat or a large house with a garden? This will help to determine the size of animal best suited for your home
- How much time will your pet spend alone each day? For example, if you are out most of the day, you might want to get a pet that doesn’t require a lot of attention, rather than, say a dog
- Do you have small children or live with someone who is old or disabled? A smaller animal may be a better option
- Can you tolerate a lot of shedding? This can help you to narrow down a specific dog or cat breed
- And lastly, try to adopt not shop. Shelters, rescue organizations and SPCA’s are full of unwanted and abandoned dogs and cats that are looking for new homes. Adopting a pet from there will not only be giving a deserving pet a home, but you will also likely be saving an animal’s life.