Those with pets know how much joy they can bring to a household but did you know that owning a pet can actually improve your health and wellbeing? We’re not just talking about getting fit from regularly walking the dog (although that’s a great benefit too), pet ownership can bring many more wonderful health benefits that should have more people considering adopting a pet or spending more time with their pet.
A phenomenon known as ‘The Pet Effect’ has been identified through a considerable body of literature that supports the idea that companion animals can improve overall quality of life, including physical, social and psychological health.
1. Reducing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Research has shown that patting your pet, or even watching your fish swim around, can ease stress by releasing happy hormones when you connect with your pet. Many people find being with their pets relaxing, and simple rituals like patting your pet can help with practicing mindfulness, being present - taking your mind off negative thoughts of what happened in the past or may happen in the future.
One study revealed that older people with pets are less stressed by major adverse life events than non-pet owners.
In a survey conducted by HABRI (Human-Animal Bond Research Institute) it was found that 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership.
A pet’s unconditional love is wonderfully positive support for people experiencing depression and a pet’s instant gratification in response to time spent with them can be an incredible mood booster. Plus the routines developed through pet ownership - feeding, walking, cleaning etc - can boost motivation and give you a reason to get up and be active each day, positively impacting mental well-being.
2. Improving the Immune System
Exposure to pets can help develop children’s immune systems and reduce their likelihood of developing allergies and asthma.
For adults, pets can continue to support the immune system - a study by the University of Arizona is exploring how dogs can act as a probiotic, encouraging the growth of positive microorganisms in the human gut — enough to improve physical and mental health in older adults.
3. Improved Sleep
Research has shown that co-sleeping with pets may improve some people’s quality of sleep.
From data collected at the Center for Sleep Medicine, Mayo Clinic in Arizona, it was found that more than half of the respondents who owned pets allowed the pet to sleep in their bedroom. 41% of the pet owners perceived their pets as unobtrusive or even beneficial to sleep.
4. Improved Heart Health
From reducing blood pressure to improving recovery rates from heart surgery, pet ownership is proving to be good for your heart.
One study suggests that dogs can help control blood pressure better than drugs, specifically when it comes to controlling spikes in blood pressure due to stress and tension. The test groups were hypertensive New York stockbrokers. Those with pets were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rates than those without pets. When the results came in, many in the non-pet group want to quickly go and get a pet!
5. A Sense of Purpose
Pets can provide a great sense of purpose and a positive feeling of being needed. As a pet owner you carry the responsibility of taking care of the pet’s wellbeing and this can be good for groups at risk of or experiencing poor health, including the elderly, people with chronic diseases and people with long-term mental illness.
6. Improves Longevity
Owning a pet can support healthy aging and human longevity. A study known as the ‘blue zone’ has identified nine factors that increase lifespan, and many of these factors are increase by pets.
Often referred to as ‘Man’s best friend’, dogs have an incredible ability to understand human emotion and behavior which enables them to act like a great friend when we’re feeling down, lessening loneliness and improving our mood with little nudges, expressions and simply being there to comfort you.
But it’s not just dogs who help, most pets help improve your mental and physical health.
8. Increase Your Social Interaction
Those with a fear of social situations, or social phobia, could benefit from owning a pet, such as a dog, as they can help with slowly introducing you to other people who also have pets and enabling conversations to flow from a shared interest in pets. Dogs are social creatures and require regular walks so you’ll get into a routine of going outside and no doubt your furry friend will start making friends and help you to do so as well.
With such positive results of owning a pet, animal companions are now prescribed to support people with a range of conditions such as:
- PTSD in war veterans
- Alzheimer’s disease
- And so much more
Tell us how your pet has helped improve your mental, physical or social wellbeing in the comments below.