A Golden Retriever puppy and toddler snuggle on a bed.

5 ways pets can improve your health

MAY 16, 2019
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Whether it’s their cute paws, sweet snuggles, or happy tail wags, there’s no doubt that pets bring joy into our lives. And if you didn’t already have a million reasons to love your furry best friend, here’s one more: research shows that owning a pet can help your health and well-being.

 

It turns out, that special bond you share with your pet has lots of positive health benefits. Pets can help with stress, depression, obesity, heart health, and more. Here’s a look at some of the extra (health) perks you get from your pet.

 

Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

According to the American Heart Association, having a pet may lower your risk of heart disease.1 Dog owners, in particular, tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels — most likely due to all those dog walks. One study found that dog owners did more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and they were 54% more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.2

 

Less feelings of loneliness

It doesn’t matter if you live by yourself or in a full house, studies show that pets help people feel less isolated and alone — and less depressed.3 The bond between people and pets is a source of important emotional support. In addition to this one-on-one companionship, researchers found that pet owners end up socializing more with people in their neighborhood.4 Another bonus of those regular dog walks.

 

Buffer against stress

Having a bad day? Cuddle up with your four-legged friend. Studies have shown that the interaction between people and pets increases oxytocin levels in the brain.5 Oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone,” has a physical effect on your body. It helps slow your heart rate and breathing, and prevents stress hormones, creating a sense of calm and comfort. So go ahead and snuggle up with your beloved cat.

 

Prevent weight gain

Perhaps it’s the walks, hikes, or playing fetch, but it appears that all that work to keep your pup active is helping lower your risk of obesity. Researchers found that dog walking is linked to lower body mass index and fewer doctor visits for seniors.6

 

Keep allergies at bay

When kids are exposed to cats and dogs at a young age, they have less chance of developing allergies. Research shows that children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma.7 One theory is the exposure to the dog’s dirt and bacteria — from their fur and paws — helps kids build immunity. Similarly, babies who lived with cats during the first year of their life are less likely to be allergic to cats.8

 

The research is clear — the love and companionship from pets does wonders for your mental and physical health. Pet owners are often happier, have greater self-esteem, and are more physically fit. When you adopt a pet, you don’t just improve the quality of their life — they help improve the quality of your life, too.

 

 

 

1Glenn Levine et al., “Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association,” Circulation, June 11, 2013.

2See note 1.

3Allen McConnell et al., “Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011.

4Angela Curl et al., “Dog walking, the human–animal bond and older adults’ physical health,” The Gerontologist, March 19, 2016.

5Suzanne Miller et al., “An examination of changes in oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog,” Anthrozoos, March 2009.

6See note 4.

7“Pet exposure may reduce allergy and obesity: Research shows having a dog early in life may alter gut bacteria in immune-boosting ways,” University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, ScienceDaily.com, April 6, 2017.

8Ganesa Wegienka, et al., “Lifetime dog and cat exposure and dog‐and cat‐specific sensitization at age 18 years,” Clinical & Experimental Allergy, July 2011.

 

TOPICSexerciseHeart HealthMental Health and WellnessStress Management