Helper animals, such as guide dogs for the blind, and seizure alert dogs offer obvious benefits to humans. However, the average domestic pet, such as a dog, cat, or even a goldfish, can provide health benefits to their owners. Pets not only provide unconditional love and affection, they can ease loneliness, reduce stress, and encourage exercise. Caring for a pet may even help us to live longer.
While most pet owners know very well the joy that comes with sharing their lives with a beloved animal friend, many remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of playing with or snuggling up to a furry companion. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.
Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets.
Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without pets.
Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
While people with dogs often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.
Petting, holding, cuddling, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe us when we’re stressed. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and some pets are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost mood.
Taking a dog for a walk, riding a horse, or simply chasing a kitten around are all fun ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners, for example, are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements than non-owners.
Isolation and loneliness can make disorders such as depression even worse. Caring for a living animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most pet owners talk to their pets and nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or a purring cat.
Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—you’ll always have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet.