6 Potential Health Benefits of Owning a Pet. Did you know that having a pet may reduce your risk of becoming lonely? The ASPCA conducted a nationwide poll, which revealed nearly 25 million households had pets during the pandemic.
And just think about how many more Americans are already pet owners and have to wait for their new pet. Based on the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey, it’s estimated 70 percent of U.S. households have pets!
1. Pets Promote Social Connectedness
For people who can’t strike up a conversation with other folks, pets may serve as a social icebreaker. “Pets are capable of stabilizing people who have a difficult time forming connections,” says Nancy R. Gee, PhD. Dr. Gee is the Professor of Psychiatry and the Anatomy-psychiatry Liaison at The Richmond Center for Mental Health Services in Richmond, Virginia. “Pets put us out there in a way that makes us feel welcome to connect with others,” says Dr. Gee. With more than half of respondents saying that their pet helps them make new friends, walking your dog in public likely helps you make more connections as well!
2. Pet Ownership Is Linked to Lower Blood Pressure
It’s a common misconception that having a pet around gives you permission to eat poorly or take health risks, but it turns out that dogs, cats, birds and fish make for great companions. One study found that people with pets had lower base heart rates and blood pressure. Pets were also associated with smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure during periods of stress, as well as quicker returns to baseline state afterward. Other studies have confirmed the relationship between pets, lowering blood pressure and overall personal health benefits.
3. Dogs Can Help Boost Your Physical Activity
Dog owners will understand the drill. They know they must take the dog out to do his business, so they walk him roughly five times a day. That’s a job that forces them to do some physical activity at least once a day. For all of these reasons, dog owners are more likely than non-dog owning citizens to get 151 minutes or more of exercise each week.
4. Pets May Help Prevent Loneliness
Even if you’re living with a partner or housemate, loneliness can sneak in. But if you have a pet, that can help. Dr. Fierstein suggests choosing a dog instead of a cat, as they appeared to be less lonely in a recent study of pet owners’ feelings about their companion animals. At the same time, if you’re trying to figure out which kind of animal would best suit your needs as an individual, consider your personal preferences and what type of animal makes you feel the most comfortable.
5. Petting Your Four-Legged Friend Boosts Feel-Good Hormones
Now that you’ve stopped to think about why you stroke your pet, scratch your dog’s ears, or pet your cat’s furry belly, let’s delve into some research. Mastiffs seem to benefit the most! One study found that spending time with a dog makes serotonin, a feel-good hormone, work better. Other studies suggest that stroking animals can boost opioid release. In any case, pets are one of those things we often do without questioning why.
Have you ever considered what drives how you pet your pet, scratch your dog’s ears, or pet your cat’s furry belly? Dogs and cats may enjoy the attention that is given to them by their owners, but a few studies suggest that people might also reap some benefits from physical touch with these pets.
For example, one small study published in October of 2017 in Frontiers in Psychology found that touching dogs led to higher levels of the “feel good” hormone oxytocin and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Another couple of small past studies have also suggested that pets can help reduce feelings of stress during a stressful task. Jacob Fierstein says, “Petting is a mode of expression for many people as well as sensations that are associated with self-comforting contexts and helps to decrease loneliness or other stresses such as depression, anxiety, etc.”
6. Pets May Help Promote Mental Health
Mental health experts from around the world agree that pets are helpful for building social connections and emotional support. In fact, observational research shows that having a pet can have many benefits for people living with mental health conditions.
One large review, published in February 2018, found 17 studies supporting the idea of owning a pet to benefit people living with mental health issues. The review showed an increased sense of meaning and better emotional stability in people who owned a pet and it was linked with a greater sense of purpose.
“Pets may foster social and emotional connections, meaning that they can positively affect mood and overall mental health,” says Fierstein. He adds, in research carried out by the Pet Partners organization, that pets may also be a source of support for people living with mental health conditions. The available data seems to support the idea that pets may bolster mental health.
One large review published in 2018 in BMC Psychiatry examined 17 studies on pet ownership among people living with mental health conditions, and found specific potential benefits from owning a pet — for example, dog ownership was found to be beneficial for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder, and pet ownership was more generally linked with improved emotional stability and sense of meaning.