America is going through a mental health crisis. This crisis predates the global pandemic, but has in many ways been dramatically exacerbated by it. In 2019, 19.86% of adults, or 50 million Americans, reported suffering from a mental illness. The emotional toll of the pandemic has been heavy, with over half of U.S. adults saying that they have experienced stress and worry related to Covid-19. Anxieties over work, uncertainty about the future and other triggers have intensified the mental health crisis. Millions of Americans have found comfort in pet ownership. The media has been awash with stories about a surge in pet ownership, as Americans have taken advantage of the ability of pets to improve emotional well-being.
Pets Relieve Stress
The direct, emotional benefits of owning a pet go beyond owning traditional pets such as dogs. For instance, one study compared the effects of keeping a rabbit, a turtle and a toy on the emotional well-being of stressed adults. Whereas the toy had no effect on the emotional well-being of these adults, stroking the rabbit or turtle helped ease the stress levels of these adults. It seems that forming a connection with a living creature is the important thing. Another study showed that even keeping crickets could help boost emotional well-being. The key to improved emotional well-being seems to be the regenerative powers of exercising compassion and taking care of another living creature. Feeding it, taking it to the veterinarian, making sure it gets the right exercise, and other such things, are good for your emotional well-being.
Pets Improve the Physical Health of their Owners
We’ve all heard the saying that a dog is a (wo)man’s best friend. Research suggests that dogs, and more broadly, pets, are more than just trusting friends. There are physical benefits to living with a pet, varying from improved cardiovascular health and increased physical activity -someone has to walk that dog!- to lower cholesterol and decreased blood pressure. Overall, pet owners have a lower risk of dying from diseases such as cardiovascular disease, than non-pet owners. This is true even when you adjust for factors such as body mass index, smoking and socioeconomic status.
In fact, research shows that pet ownership is linked to longer, healthier lives. If you want the secret to a long life, getting a pet should be high on your list. You’ve heard that other saying: a healthy mind, a healthy body. Well, it works the other way round, too: a healthy body, a healthy mind. With better physical health, comes improved emotional well being.
Pets are Great Companions
The physical benefits of pet ownership are especially true for people who live alone. People who live alone are at a higher risk of early death than people who live with others. A person living alone with a pet has a 33% less chance of an early death, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to a person living alone without a pet.
This is because pets are great companions who, because they are so dependent on their owners, prevent their owners from slipping into depression or feeling lonely and not taking care of their health. Having a pet prompts greater levels of physical activity and healthier living.