Owning a pet has enormous health benefits! The extra cardio from dog walking is an obvious one, but there have also been many studies showing that pets are great for our mental health as well as physical. With more of us than ever at home and spending an increased amount of time with our pets, here are just a few of the reasons why pet ownership helps to improve our overall health and happiness.
Caring for a pet makes us more empathetic
Looking after and taking care of a pet gives us a sense of purpose and responsibility. They are reliant on us for everything! Just being aware of and sensitive to their needs and experiences has a positive impact on us, with one study of school children finding that children with pets showed greater empathy.
Pets reduce stress
Having pets around helps reduce our stress and anxiety levels by lowering our heart rate and stress hormones. Dogs can reduce stress and loneliness for seniors, with one study finding that nursing home residents felt much less lonely after spending time alone with a dog than when other people joined in the visit.
Companionship and touch
Pets are also great caregivers - they keep us company when we’re sick or feeling down and tend to show extra affection when they sense that we're not okay. Physical contact and affection has been proven to lower one's heart rate, with one study indicating that a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of "feel good" hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin.
Pets enhance our social-connectedness
Pets enhance our social connectedness and are great conversation starters! They are great for bonding and help us meet new people - whether it be in the local park, walking groups, pet groups, puppy training, or even just taking a stroll down the street. With greater social connectedness, comes greater self-esteem. Teenagers who own pets have a more positive outlook on life and report less loneliness, restlessness, despair, and boredom. Pet owners also report less depression and appear to cope with grief, stress, and loss better than non-pet owners.
Pets help us establish routines
Most pets require a stable routine of feeding, cleaning and exercise, giving us purpose and motivation. Having daily routines has been found to benefit mental health, improving cognitive function and even decreasing the likelihood of developing major depression and bipolar disorder.
Pets can help boost immune function
Some people, sadly, are allergic to pets. However, while some people have these reactions, having grown up with a pet in your first year of life has been found to reduce your chances of having pet allergies and reduce your risk of asthma. Living with a pet also improves immune function. Petting a dog for just 18 minutes raised levels of immune system antibodies in a college student’s saliva.
Pets improve our physical health
Pets can encourage you to get out for some fresh air and get your body moving. With increased physical activity comes better cardiovascular health and fewer visits to the doctor. Children who have pets were also found to be less likely to miss days of school due to illness.
There are countless reasons why pets are great for our mental health! Time and again, studies have come back in favour of pet ownership. Before rushing out and buying a fur-companion though, make sure you have the time and resources available to properly care for a pet and give them as much love, attention, and care as they give to us!