A man and his best friend
Do you, when you’re planning a trip away with the family, look for pet-friendly places to stay so Fido can travel with? Or better still, does your birthday celebration planning extend to your canine companion? According to a survey by Harris Poll, 95% of pet owners consider their animal a part of the family. Pets’ birthdays are celebrated, they’re included in family holidays and major decisions, like moving home, are made with them in mind.
But it’s not only the animals that benefit. A recent survey conducted by Human-Animal Bond Research Institute revealed that 74% of pet owners said owning an animal improved their mental health.
Scientists are now finding more evidence that man’s furry friends, and variations thereof, have a number of health benefits, including mental health. Animal therapy is becoming more common as research reveals animals help with healing, calming fear and anxiety and offering social support for children, the elderly and pretty much every age in between.
The Many Benefits of Owning a Pet
Anyone lucky enough to own a pet knows the joy and unconditional love that comes with it. But recent studies show pets can help people emotionally and physically, as well as socially too. Pets are known to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety and can lessen the chances of heart attacks and strokes.
But what are the other benefits of owning a pet? Let’s take a look.
Who needs a doctor’s prescription when you can take Dog?
1. You Get More Exercise When You Have a Pet
One of the major benefits of owning a dog is that you get more exercise. Rather than leave him on the dog treadmill, taking your pooch for a walk is much cheaper than a membership at the local gym, and him wagging his tail, leash in mouth, is much better motivation than any gym-buddy could ever offer.
2. A Pet Teaches and Encourages Empathy
Teaching children abstract emotions like empathy, compassion and sympathy isn’t easy but having a pet in the home helps children experience and understand what it is to feel what someone or something else might be feeling. As they grow up, they will be more considerate of other people.
A pet teaches valuable lessons like compassion and empathy
3. A Pet Can Help You Deal with Trauma
You’re probably one of the millions of people who’ve watched YouTube clips where servicemen and women are reunited with their dogs after a long period of time. Not only are these real tearjerkers, but more importantly, studies show animals can help with people who suffer from PTSD.
4. Pets Improve Your Mood
Being around animals improves people’s moods in general. A great example of this is when you get home after a long day at the office. Regardless of how your day’s been, nothing will lift your spirits quite like the welcome home party waiting for you at the front door.
5. Owning a Pet Can Reduce Your Cholesterol
A pet can help reduce cholesterol levels, especially in men. Although we’re not 100% sure whether a pet itself is responsible for this, or it’s a result of doing more exercise because of owning a pet, but who really cares if that’s the result?
6. Pets Can Shift Your Focus
Pets can change a person’s focus, whether it’s elderly patients in nursing homes or people suffering from depression. Rather than spending time worry about their illness or situation, an animal diverts their focus and has them thinking more positive thoughts. Pets are a healthy distraction.
A therapy dog with an elderly patient
8. A Pet is a Natural Painkiller
Pets are better than most painkillers or prescriptive medicines when it comes to treating chronic pain including arthritis or migraines. A study found that patients who used pet therapy after surgery required less pain medication than those who didn't.
9. A Pet Gives You Unconditional Love
Your pet doesn’t care if you’re young or old. They don’t care if you’re rich or poor. They will love you regardless of any mistakes you’ve made in the past and they’ll love you no matter how many more you might make in the future. No matter who you are or where you’re from, your pet will never look down at you or make you feel like you don’t fit in.
10. Dogs Make You Happier and Healthier
Just being around your pet makes you happy, especially if they’re goofballs, and petting a dog or cat can lower your heart rate. Also, research shows dog owners are more likely to survive a heart attack when compared to non-dog owners.
A dog doing what dogs do best
11. Pets Make You More Sociable
Owning a pet makes you more sociable and allows for more social contact, whether it’s chatting to other pet owners at the local park, or meeting people with similar interests at organized walks or other human and animal get-togethers. According to some sources, pets (the cuter the better) make great wingmen, which is always a good thing.
12. Owning a Cat Can Help Prevent Heart Disease
We know dogs offer all sorts of health benefits, but felines come with their own feel-good factors too. According to a recent study, cat owners were less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks.
Cat-owners have healthy and happy hearts
13. A Pet Can Help People with Diabetes Monitor Blood Sugar Levels
A study conducted in 1992 showed that pets (mainly dogs, but rabbits, birds, and cats as well) who lived with diabetics would have a change in behavior when their owner’s blood sugar levels dropped. As a result organizations like Dogs4Diabetics trains dogs as companions for diabetes patients.
14. Growing Up with Pets Improves Children’s Immune Systems
Children who grow up with pets in the home have better immune systems and fewer allergies. According to studies the more pets you have earlier in life, the fewer allergies you’ll develop. However, if you’re an allergy sufferer as an adult getting a pet won’t have a reverse effect.
Pets benefit children in so many ways
15. As a Pet Owner, You’re Just Healthier
Generally, pet owners have fewer health issues compared to people who don’t have any. According to a study by HABRI, pet owners saved approximately $11.7 billion in health care. It would seem people with pets have stronger immune systems, lower cholesterol levels as well as healthier (and happier) hearts.
16. Dogs Make You Feel Safe
Dogs make for excellent home security systems. Whether they’re tiny yappers or gentle giants with an imposing size, dogs scare off potential burglars. Just being there, dogs make you feel safer and more secure, which has positive effects on both your physical and mental health.
17. Owning a Pet Gives You a Purpose
For older people, especially retirees, it’s easy to lose a sense of purpose or find meaning when you feel like you’re doing nothing all day, every day. Having a pet changes that completely. Even if you’ve lost your ‘get-up-and-go’ and would rather spend the day in bed, your pooch needs to be fed, walked and looked after.
18. Pets Are a Natural Sedative
Pets, especially cats, are a natural sedative and help you sleep better. It could be the purring, or just knowing you’re not alone, but before you pop another sleeping tablet, rather pop your pet on your bed.
Dogs are Nature’s sedatives
19. Pets Can Prevent Asthma
Pets not only keep allergies away, they also keep asthma at bay. By simply being exposed to pets from an early age, the chance of children having respiratory problems is lessened.
20. Pets Provide Emotional Support
When a friend lost a family member a few years back, the ‘person’ that got her through it was her Scottie. By being able to talk openly and honestly about her feelings to her canine companion, she was able to deal with the death in her own way. Pets don’t judge, they don’t charge by the hour and you know your problem or secret is safe.
Getting through tough times can be made easier with a pet
26. Dogs Can Help Detect Seizures
Dogs are trained as service animals to help people with various disabilities. By using dog leashes, they are also being used as response dogs for people who suffer from seizures. These pets are not only their owner’s best friends, they’re also their protectors, caregivers and alarm systems.
25. Pets are Great Teachers
Children with pets not only learn empathy and compassion, they also learn other valuable life skills, including patience and consistency, responsibility, leadership, communication, perseverance, and goal-setting. They also help children learn about respect, trust, and loyalty, and can even help little ones deal with death and grief.
A goofy companion
26. Pets Can Help People with Autism
While it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of solution, studies show that people with autism can benefit with having a pet around. Animals provide a love that passes all understanding with no judgment and no conditions. Studies also show children with autism have reduced levels of anxiety and stress when they interacted with animals.
27. A Pet Can Help You Detect Cancer
A dog’s amazing sense of smell can be used for a variety of purposes, including cancer detection. Many dog owners reported their dogs continually sniffed, licked and even nudged spots that were later picked up as cancer.
28. Pets Can Improve Mental Functioning
In situations where a person might need mental stimulation and focus, caring for a parent can help. Remembering your pet’s mealtimes, their routine and other needs helps with memory and stimulates patients mental functioning.
27. Pets Make the Best BFFs
Pets, hairy, scaly, four-legged or more, are the best BFFs. They’re fun to be around, they keep you busy and fit, and take your mind off your problems. They’re goofy and can provide endless hours of entertainment. They ask for nothing in return but give their all. And it’s fair to say, no one will ever love you this much:
29. Pets Can Improve a Person’s Self-Esteem
Having a pet can improve a person’s self-esteem, especially seniors in nursing homes. After being independent and taking care of themselves, they have nurses, therapists, and caregivers who provide constant care. Looking after a pet gives them a sense of responsibility and boosts their confidence.
There’s no love like a pet’s love
30. Pets Provide Companionship
When you live on your own or are far away from friends and family, pets are the perfect companions. Just by having them around makes you feel less lonely and less isolated. They give their owners a sense of purpose and can even encourage them to get out more often.
What? You don’t have a pet? Because you’re allergic to cats and dogs? Fear not because all creatures, great or small, can benefit our health and mental well being.
A study was done with a group of stressed-out adults where they were asked to pet a turtle, rabbit or toys of either. The results showed no effect petting the toys but touching the animal relieved anxiety levels.
Horses have played a role in therapy since the 1860s. The simple tasks of grooming a horse and leading it around the pen show reduced symptoms of PTSD in both adolescents and younger children.
How often have you found yourself staring at fish in a tank, pond or an aquarium? It turns out fish have other health benefits besides their nutritional value. Studies show that an aquarium at home can help calm children with ADHD. They also help reduce stress and blood pressure and have been shown to improve behavior of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Guinea pigs can help kids socialize
For children who find it difficult or stressful to socialize, animals can make the situation easier. A study showed that when kids with Autism had a guinea pig in their classroom, they laughed and smiled more, stressed less and were more social.
And last but definitely not least, are ducks. Like Daniel.
So there you it, 30 amazing benefits of owning a pet, according to science, and us.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.