Animals and Your Health: The Benefits of Having a Pet
by Amy Scholten, MPH
You had a bad day. Your car was hit in the parking lot. You missed a project deadline. Now you are hungry. You juggle your briefcase and keys and open the front door. There you are greeted by a lop-sided grin and wagging tail. Laughing, you pick up your little dog. As he licks your face, your worries fade away.
Pets are great company. They offer love and joy so freely. But that is not all—they can also be good for your health.
Benefits in Older Adults
For many reasons, pets can be good for older adults. Loneliness is common among older people and can lead to health problems. Pets are good company and help keep their owners engaged in life. Dogs, for example, need to be walked. This helps their owners get out and get more exercise. Dog owners often meet other dog owners during walks or at dog parks. Pets also help people feel loved and useful.
Animals have been found to help calm people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Many long term care homes now have pets for their residents. Caregivers are under constant stress and may also benefit from spending time with pets.
Heart Health Benefits
Studies have shown that pets can be good for heart health. They can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. This may be because they ease stress and help us get more exercise. Active dogs, for example, often go for hikes or jogs with their owners. Dogs help families bond and stay fit during walks, play, and active fun.
Mental Health Benefits
Many therapists now use animals to help their patients. They have found that animals help people:
People can get the same benefits from owning a pet.
Children and Pets
The next time your child asks to get a dog or cat, give it some thought. Children who have pets develop positive feelings about them. This helps them have greater self-esteem and self-confidence.
Children can learn to become more responsible by caring for an animal. Pets help them to connect with nature. They can learn respect for other living things.
Owning a pet can help children develop non-verbal communication. Pets give them a chance to practice kindness too. This can be especially helpful for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Is a Pet Right For You?
There are so many good reasons to have a pet. Does this mean you should run to the nearest pet store and buy a cat, bird, or fish? Pets can be good for us, but it is important to think about their well-being too. When choosing a pet, think about your lifestyle, habits, experience, and expectations.
Pets depend on you for everything. Be sure you are willing to handle the responsibility and cost of a pet. If you never had a pet before, consider trying a pet that does not need as much attention. For example, a hamster would not be as much work as a dog.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
American Veterinary Medical Association
Animal Alliance of Canada
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
Can your pet help you be healthier? American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/can-your-pet-help-you-be-healthier#.V1WJzk2FMdU. Accessed June 16, 2021.
Pets and children. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Pets-And-Children-075.aspx. Accessed June 16, 2021.
The health benefits of dogs (and cats). Helpguide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm. Accessed June 16, 2021.
The truth about cats and dogs: Pets are good for mental health of 'everyday people." American Psychological Association website. Available at: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/07/cats-dogs. Accessed June 16, 2021.
What are the health benefits of pet ownership. RSPCA website. Available at: https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-are-the-health-benefits-of-pet-ownership. Accessed June 16, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/16/2021
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