If you’re an animal lover, you already know how having a pet can improve your life. A greeting from your always-happy-to-see-you dog when you walk in the door puts a smile on your face. Having your cat or bunny curl up on your lap takes the edge off a chilly day.
Pets of all varieties offer companionship and unconditional love. Taking care of a pet can give you a sense of purpose. That bond can also help reduce the brain’s stress response.
So whether your pets live in your house — or even in a chicken coop or barn — they can be a bright spot in your life.
Having a pet can also help your mental and physical health in more concrete ways.
Being More Active
Many people can’t skip their evening walk because their dog won’t let them. Beyond bonding and giving your pet some healthy exercise, that daily ritual keeps you active, too.
And other pets can help you be more active, too. Not very many cats like to take a walk on a leash, but many enjoy lively play with their owners.
While you’re walking your dog, you’ll likely meet other dogs and their humans. That gives you a chance to know your neighbors and make connections. Dogs and their antics are natural conversation starters.
Pet owners are much more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood. About 40 percent of pet owners said they got social support from people they met through their pet, according to one survey.
While many of the survey participants had dogs, people who owned indoor cats also met neighbors who had seen the animals sitting in house windows. In fact, the study found chickens, rabbits, sheep, turtles, a donkey and even a pet snake served as a common topic of conversation that helped improve social ties.
Keeping backyard poultry is a popular choice. People enjoy raising chicks and later having fresh eggs. They find the hobby fun and educational, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you know how to protect your family from illnesses.
Other Health Benefits
Here are some ways a pet friend may help your health:
- Calm your heart rate
- Lower your blood pressure
- Help avoid depression
- Decrease loneliness
A strong pet/owner bond can help reduce feelings of worry. One study showed pet owners with long-term health problems are less likely to suffer from depression.
In another study, people with high blood pressure who adopted a dog or cat had lower blood pressure during stressful times than people without pets. Heart patients with pets survive longer. And playing with your pets can raise the levels of hormones that bring a sense of peace and joy.
An estimated 40 million households in the U.S. have pet cats. Research shows they offer emotional support and improve their owners’ overall mood. They even promote a better social life for older people and those with disabilities.
Wondering which pet to get?
Add “improved health” to the list of reasons to adopt a pet. If you’re not sure what pet is best for you, check out these questions from the nonprofit group Best Friends Animal Society.
Sources: The health benefits and risks of pet ownership, Harvard Medical School Health Letter, 2016; The Pet Factor - Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to Know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support, PLOS ONE, 2015; “Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study,” Scientific Reports, November 2017; Exercising with Your Dog, WebMD, 2016; Survey: Pet Owners and the Human-Animal Bond, Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 2016