How much have you changed since welcoming a pet into your life?
Studies suggest that having pets around can improve your mental, physical and social health. Some healthcare professionals even advise patients to bring home a pet—especially dogs or cats—in an effort to lower stress and increase happiness.
No wonder pets are so popular. In the U.S. alone, most households have at least one pet. 95 percent of pet owners think of their animal friends as family members—some even going as far as celebrating pet birthdays and buying presents.
Do the studies reflect the reality of having pets? How exactly does the act of taking responsibility for an animal life result in long term health benefits?
Let’s explore the advantages of pet ownership in detail below.
How Can Taking Care of Pets Improve Your Mental Health?
At the very least, having a pet where you live will make you less lonely. Constant and unconditional companionship should never be undervalued. A dog or cat can turn an otherwise empty house into a home you’ll want to come back to after a long day at work. Who doesn’t enjoy watching dogs or cats playing with their toys?
A study conducted in the UK, which polled 1000 pet owners, shows that owning a pet may increase your chances of feeling successful. Translating that belief into real-life achievements varies from person to person, of course. However, the same study also concluded that pet owners are more likely to marry, have children, graduate from higher education, and find a job they like.
Did you know that there’s a scientific explanation for why pets make us happy? When you form a close bond with a pet, you may boost the amount of oxytocin and endorphins in your body. These biochemicals make you calmer and more relaxed. Research has also found that pets can increase instances of mirth.
Even if you’re not the laughing type, your dog or cat will have an uplifting effect on your mood. More results from the UK study mentioned earlier show that over 40 percent of pet owners value the fact that they always have someone to talk to, with over 15 percent of them saying that if it weren’t for their pet, they wouldn’t ever think to speak to anyone at all.
Some clinics and hospitals are even opening their doors to simple pet therapy and other animal-assisted methods of treating or managing mental health disorders. Research is promising in this area of medicine, and it’s generally accepted that many types of animals can help people of all ages deal with anxiety, depression, fear, and stress.
How Can Taking Care of Pets Improve Your Physical Health?
There are studies that suggest pet ownership as a means to improve overall well-being for people with serious medical conditions, such as being HIV positive or having a cardiovascular disease. The idea is that a healthy emotional and mental outlook may also affect physical healing. However, in cases like this, pet choice is essential. If you’re not fit enough to take care of a large and active pet, you may be better off with low maintenance types like guinea pigs or rabbits.
You don’t have to be sick to feel the health benefits of having a pet, though. Even the ordinary act of stroking a pet’s fur can lower your blood pressure when you’re in an agitated state. And for almost 50 percent of pet owners, their animal friends are the main reason they get the amount of exercise they do.
What’s your regular routine with your pet? If you have a dog, for instance, you probably have to put them in a harness and leash to walk them at least once a day. That alone can decrease your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and can even help you shed unwanted pounds.
Even if you don’t have a pet that you need to walk or exercise outdoors, the home upkeep required—cleaning bird cages, feeding aquarium pets, etc.—will keep you moving and burning calories.
How Can Taking Care of Pets Improve Your Social Health?
First, let’s define social health. What does it mean when you strive for a healthy social life? In general, it’s characterized by maintained personal relationships and community involvement. It’s intrinsically connected to mental and physical health because your interpersonal actions often depend on your capability to focus and move around.
If your pet is the type that needs outdoor activity, you’re already halfway to normalcy—even if you’re the shyest, most isolated person you know. There’s something about being outside with your pet that makes you more approachable. Random conversations with kind strangers at dog parks or vet clinics are not uncommon and typically non-threatening at all. You already likely have one thing in common—being a pet owner—after all. Why not respond? It can’t hurt to expand your social horizons, especially when the opportunity presents itself somewhere within your comfort zone.
Did you know that studies reveal pet owners are also more likely to volunteer and support charities? It may be that having pets provide you with meaningful social support encourages you to do the same—a “pay it forward” situation of sorts.
Some may think that pet ownership may make you less dependent on human interaction, but there’s little to support this “crazy cat lady” theory. Instead, research shows that pet owners may form healthier bonds with people because of better mental well-being.
Does the Type of Pet You Choose Matter?
Studies show that the type of pet doesn’t make a difference—if we’re talking about the emotional benefits of pet ownership. People, in general, will be able to form healthy relationships with a variety of animals. In other words, it’s just as likely for someone to take comfort in and talk to their pet dog as it is for someone to do the same for a more unusual choice like a lizard or fish.
However, for physical health benefits, it may help to get an active pet like a dog—even a horse, if you’re able to care for one. More activity means more exercise, after all.