If you’re one of the estimated 68% of Americans who live with a pet at home, you likely already know many of the benefits of having a pet.1 Pet lovers know that pets may help reduce stress, combat loneliness, and are (usually) just a joy to be around. Reason enough, right?
But did you know that there is a long list of other health and well-being benefits to having pets that have been studied by scientists? If you’re curious about all of the things our animal friends do for us, you’ll find the answers here.
Emotional And Mental Health Benefits
Pet lovers intuitively know that their furry friends are major mood boosters. It’s tough not to crack a smile – even after a day filled with stress and anxiety – when your pet excitedly greets you at your door. Turns out, this “feel good” effect is backed up by science.
Here’s what the research says about the mental health benefits of pet ownership:
- Human-animal interactions may support a positive mood. One study found that when participants interacted with dogs, their oxytocin levels shot up. This in turn can make you feel happy on a physiological level.2,3
- Pets may help with feelings of loneliness. This one seems like a no-brainer, and multiple studies back it up. Research on both dogs and birds with aging adults show that animal visits can reduce feelings of loneliness.4
- Pets might help with stress. Studies show that levels of stress hormones like cortisol drop after interacting with animals.5
- Pets might make you feel calm. Research shows that pets – even fish you watch in an aquarium – may help promote feelings of calmness.6
Social Benefits That Pet Lovers Enjoy
There are many social benefits to living with a pet. Just ask anyone who has walked around their neighborhood with a brand new puppy. People on the street love giving pets (and their humans) attention. Many of these social benefits have been studied by scientists. Here are a few that stand out:
- Pets may help build trust. One study found that the boost in oxytocin caused by dogs increased trust among people.7
- Pets may encourage strangers to interact with you. One study found that dogs (specifically Labrador retrievers) encourage social interactions with strangers.8
Physical Health Benefits Of Having An Animal In Your Care
Many people believe that adopting a dog will help them get off the couch and exercise more. But did you know that physical health benefits can be attributed to all types of pets? Here are some standout health benefits:
- One study found those who live with dogs and cats go to the doctor less often. This might point to the general conclusion that pet lovers are more healthy overall.9
- Pet owners exercise more and are in better physical health. Intuitively, dog lovers know that their dogs “force” them to go outside and pursue physical activity. Turns out, research backs this up.10
- Dogs may help support healthy blood pressure levels. One study found that the presence of a dog lowered children’s blood pressure more than reading or resting.11
- Dogs may support a healthy heart rate. One study found that petting a dog for 3 minutes led to a decreased heart rate up to 55 minutes later.12
- Pets may promote healthy immune systems. Strong immune systems can help ward off all types of health conditions.13
Home And Family Benefits: More Exercise And Responsibility For Young Children
If you have children or grandchildren, adopting a pet can be a great way to teach responsibility and empathy. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Turns out, pets may positively affect a child’s health in ways that might not be immediately apparent. Here are just a few of those benefits:
- Dogs may improve children’s motor skills. One study showed that children performed a motor skill task faster when a dog was present. The authors speculate that it could be that the dog motivated them or helped them relax and get to work.14
- Dogs may help children learn. Dogs have been shown to support concentration, attention, motivation, and relaxation. These all promote learning.15
- Dogs may reduce aggression in children. One study found that first graders were less aggressive in the presence of a dog.16
- Pets may make kids feel more confident. Research shows that children who care for animals have increased self-esteem.17
- Pets may help children develop social skills, especially children with autism.18
On a less scientific, but equally important note: having a pet at home may help family members bond. It gives them something outside of themselves to care about, which helps bring people closer.
If that isn’t reason enough to adopt a pet, go ahead and read through this long list one more time. You’re bound to find something that speaks to you.
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