The Doc’s BFF: The Benefits of Pets for Human Health

mentally disabled woman with a second woman and a companion dog, concept learning by animal assisted living

Key Points 

  • Countless studies have examined the benefits of pets for human health

  • There are drawbacks to owning a pet that you need to know before getting one.

  • No matter your age, the benefits of pets for human health are there. 

As of a study conducted in 2022, about 70 percent of U.S. households have a pet of some kind. If this sounds like a wild number, that isn’t even factoring in the people who want to adopt a pet! Many people are not aware that the benefits of pets for human health are a huge contributor to why this number is so high. 

Sure, owning a pet isn’t all fun and games. Owning a pet comes with great responsibility after all, but the health benefits are there. If you put in the work required to own a pet, then you have the chance to experience the benefits, too. 

A man exercises with his pet dog

Pet Benefits on Mental Health 

You probably consider typical pets as dogs and cats – but what if you’re allergic to them? A pet doesn’t have to just be a domesticated, four-legged creature. All animal types come with the benefits of helping your mental health. 

For many people, this means that a dog or a cat is their companion. For others, a pet spider provides the same type of help. Even just watching fish swim around in their aquarium helps reduce muscle tension and lowers your pulse rate. That’s right – the fish you see in the dentist's office are not just there for show. They’re there to help keep you calm. 

Pets have been found to contribute to positive mental health through emotional and practical work. The emotional side is seen in alleviating worries, stress, and even depression. You may have noticed that when you’re upset your pet wastes no time coming and cuddling with you. This intuition makes pets great therapy animals. It is a big reason that animal therapy exists. 

The practical work that comes with caring for a pet also may help your mental health. Making sure their needs are met and keeping a daily routine is often helpful to those who struggle to take care of themselves. These daily routines have been found to give those who struggle with their mental health a reason to get up and do what is needed. 

A study by Brooks et al. found that dog ownership is beneficial for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder. They also found that owning a pet was linked with improved emotional stability. This stability helped increase a sense of meaning and purpose in many of the study’s participants. 

Pets are also known to provide distractions and disruptions from symptoms like hearing voices, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts. They do this by providing a sense of routine and grounding for their owners. 

Pet Benefits on Physical Health 

No matter who you are, every bit counts in physical health. The daily walks with your dog add up over time. Many dog owners meet the criteria for regular moderate exercise leading to a decreased risk of obesity. 

With physical health, your heart shows the biggest signs of improvement. Animals have a significant impact on your blood pressure. Many pet owners have a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure. 

Yes, this is even true when your pet is driving you crazy. 

If canines aren’t your cup of tea, you aren’t left out of the healthy heart aspect. Just having a feline in your home reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and heart attacks. The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) found that people who don’t own a cat have a 40 percent higher risk of a heart attack than non-cat owners. 

Walking your pet provides similar support to a human exercise buddy. Few people want to exercise alone. Having your exercise buddy with you in pet form allows for great consistency and fewer negative influences. Especially if you have a dog that loves to walk, you’ll find that they want to keep going even if you don’t. 

Not only do our personal pets provide health benefits, but therapy dogs in hospitals and elderly housing also provide the same health benefits. Walking around with a therapy dog keeps residents motivated and active. It allows for a more fun recovery for those in the hospital long term. 

Woman and horse share a moment in field of grass

Benefits of Pets With Ageing

Loneliness has a nasty way of creeping into anyone’s life regardless of how many people are there. Living with your partner or even with roommates doesn't prevent this from creeping in. Having a pet in your home provides comfort that a human simply doesn't provide. 

The same thing happens for the elderly. The elderly are among the highest percentage of people that experience loneliness, which is detrimental to mental and physical health. Having a pet plays an important role in keeping your loved one healthy while you aren’t there. 

As people age, they lose things that previously occupied their time. Retiring from their job or even having their children move away has a significant impact on how people live life. A pet brings the pleasure of taking care of something again. 

Caring for a pet has been found to boost morale, optimism, and even self-esteem in the elderly. A pet gives them something to care for, but it also is a way to stay active and even stay connected with people. 

Children and Pets Benefits 

At some point in their lives, most children ask about having a pet. If you’re a parent, you might think a pet is too much. Keep in mind that there are plenty of benefits to children having a pet. Not only does it reduce their risk of allergies and asthma, but it teaches them compassion and responsibility. 

Animals don’t give orders and don’t supply discipline like a teacher or a parent. They are always loving, and, if you’ve ever seen a pet with a child, you know that bond is incredible. Always having that pet around helps provide a sense of security, too– especially in children who have anxiety when you aren’t around. 

Calming Dog Ad

Pets don’t judge. Most owners tell their pets secrets, and children are no different. With a pet, they don’t have to fear rejection. This is a great way for a child to build confidence and help grow their vocabulary. Sure, the pet can’t talk back, but it also won’t care if your child says the wrong thing. 

Especially for those who struggle with reading, a pet helps improve their confidence. A pet won’t mind that it takes longer for your child to read. For those who struggle with reading out loud, there is no fear of being made fun of. This builds confidence that goes past just being able to read out loud. 

Even a small pet like a hamster is a great way to teach your child responsibility. It gives your child something to care for and is a great setup for a routine.

Human hand scratches chin of cat

Children With Learning Disorders and Pets 

Some children can better interact with pets than with people. This is especially true in those who are autistic or have another learning disability. Children who are nonverbal use cues to communicate much as an animal does. 

Not only do pets allow your child to feel a connection, but most times, they also help your child learn how to regulate their stress levels. Pets show your child how to calm down from being overwhelmed by just being there. If you’ve ever had a really stressful day and come home to cuddle your pet, you know just how much that helps. 

Children with learning disabilities often have a harder time keeping themselves regulated. Playing with a pet – especially an active one like a dog – helps your child regulate themself. Not only does this mean your child gets their extra energy out, but they are also learning how to handle that energy. Even simple tasks like playing fetch teach your child valuable lessons.

Animals also just seem to know when things are hard. For many children with autism, the weight of being laid on by a pet is a grounding tool to help calm down. It’s called deep pressure therapy and it works by applying pressure to the body that forces you to focus on it. It requires the brain to refocus and calm down before doing anything else.

Drawbacks of Owning a Pet 

Owning a pet comes with plenty of benefits. However, it’s important to remember that a pet has a lot of responsibility. It isn’t a magical cure for your mental or physical health. Owning a pet is amazing, and often is beneficial to many, but they also take a lot of work. 

Young boy places hands and head on cat

Commitment

Even if you love animals, understand that owning a pet is a major commitment. You are the one responsible for them, and that means you are the one who has to buy them food, take them to the vet, and everything else. At the end of their lives, there is grief and mourning that is hard to process. 

Cost

Pets cost money. If you’re struggling with money or living paycheck to paycheck, then a pet may not be for you right now. Do not put yourself in debt just to own a pet. It isn’t worth it, and both of you are likely to suffer. 

Time Management

Pets also require a lot of time and attention. Any dog owner knows that coming home to a dog who was left alone all day and got destructive is a horrible feeling. You have to train your pets and that requires a good amount of attention. If you refuse to give your pet the attention they need, it might be in your best interest to not get a pet just yet. 

Health Risk

Even the most well-behaved pet may pose a health risk. Some diseases are transmitted from cats and dogs to you. Allergies have the biggest risk. Before you get a pet, you have to think about if you want to live with allergy symptoms for the rest of that pet’s life. You also need to consider your other friends and family. Do not take this impact lightly. 

Clean-Up

The final downside to pets is they are going to do some gross things. They are most likely going to puke on your floor at some point. They are going to try to eat poop. And that’s just the beginning. If you aren’t good with the gross stuff, then a pet may not be right for you. 

Woman kneels down to embrace dog

How To Find the Right Pet for You 

If you made it this far and are yelling at the screen that you want a pet and you are ready, congratulations! You are about to embark on a unique and rewarding friendship. Now all you have to do is find the right pet for you. 

It is important that you find the right animal for your household. With dogs and cats, there are countless breeds and mixes and each offers a unique blend of personality traits.

Here are some things to ask yourself when you are starting your search to find the right pet for you: 

Do You Live in an Apartment or a House With a Backyard?

Space plays a huge factor in what kind of animal best suits your home. If you live somewhere smaller, then a cat or even a caged animal may make the most sense. 

How Much Time Will Your Pet Spend Alone Each Day?

If you are out most of the day and don’t want to hire a pet sitter or use a daycare, then you don’t want an animal who needs a lot of attention to not be bored. Look into a cat or even a pet who doesn’t mind being alone. 

Do You Live With Children or the Elderly?

Dogs rarely understand just how strong or how big they are. They easily knock over grandma or your toddler. A smaller pet may be in your best interest. 

Woman pets dog for comfort

How Much Shedding Is Too Much For You?

All animals shed, but not every breed of dog or cat sheds the same. A longer-haired animal is going to take more time when it comes to grooming and they often shed more. If you don’t have the time to do the grooming, then you may want to look into an animal that doesn’t shed as much or sheds skin rather than fur. 

How Active Do You Want to Be?

If you are looking to get active, then a dog is most likely the right choice. If you don’t want to walk a pet every day, then a cat is your perfect match. Look at your activity level before settling on a pet. 

The Bottom Line: A Best Friend for a Fun, Loving Life

Pets provide different benefits for people of all ages. There are some serious health benefits, like better focus, being able to have a routine, and even just gaining confidence. There are some downsides too, like financial costs and health risks. What one pet might do for someone, the same pet may not do for you. There is no pet greater than the other. 

No matter what pet you settle on, you have a friend for life. 

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