For pet owners, coming home to be greeted by their pet waiting at the door is sometimes the best part of their day. But there are many other physical and mental benefits that grow from this human-animal bond as well.
Though I often find myself struggling to keep up with my red poodle on walks or dealing with her excited tendency of jumping, cuddling with her after a long day seems to be worth it. My rabbit, on the other hand, seems to enjoy much of her time alone, being grateful for my company in general. From having a companion who will always be there to having a friend to play with, pets of any kind or size benefit every aspect of a person's health.
So, here's five ways pets benefit our lives.
1. They impact our health.
A Shiba Inu being held by it's owners.
A pet doesn't have to be a dog or cat for someone to experience great health benefits from them; even watching fish can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate. Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
Another study found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure dramatically decreased within five months. Elevated levels of serotonin and dopamine come with playing with a dog or cat as well. Pet owners over the age of 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors compared to people without pets.
One of the major therapeutic effects of having a pet is that they fulfill the basic human need for touch. Even criminals who have spent time in prison show long-term change in their behavior as they interact with pets as they experience mutual affection for the first time. This companionship is not only beneficial for the aspect of touch but loneliness as well, giving people a counterpart.
2. They can improve our lifestyle.
Youtuber Adriene Louise doing a yoga pose with her dog, Benji, lying on the yoga mat below her.
Though having a pet can be stressful at times, especially if they're not listening to your attempts at training or made an accident on your living room carpet, having a pet can truly improve your lifestyle and ease symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Increasing exercise is a central part of having a dog considering their need for going on walks to stay fit and healthy. Adriene Louise is a YouTuber whose channel focuses on yoga and other types of exercise, and her dog often makes an appearance, sometimes following along with the moves.
Pets also provide companionship, which can add years to your life and prevent illness. Pets can be a great social connection by helping you meet new people and maintain new friendships. Dog owners often talk to each other in pet stores and dog parks, as well as passing each other on the street while taking their pets on walks.
Also, many pets, from fish to rodents to dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Caring for a live animal in this way can make you feel needed and wanted as you are a major part of their life.
3. Pets have been helpful to their owners in quarantine.
an owner holding a kitten with its paws in the owner's hand
A study by Researchers at the University of York and the University of Lincoln surveyed pet owners from March 23 through June 1, 2020, concluding that more than 90 percent of the 6,000 respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown and 96 percent said their pet helped keep them fit and active.
The most common pets people owned in the study were cats and dogs, followed by small mammals and fish, but the type of pet did not impact the degree of mental health benefits. If you're living by yourself during the pandemic and have the resources to care for a pet, perhaps owning a pet will benefit not only your mental health but your lifestyle as well!
4. Any type of pet can have health benefits for their owners.
Amanda smiling at the camera with her foster pet, a snake, wrapped around her neck.
The health benefits of pets are not just limited to cats and dogs, but less common options as well. Studies show that lizards and snakes are able to grow attached to their owners, recognizing those who care for them. These reptilian companions often appeal to those who have an allergy to furry pets.
Birds usually have long lifespans which means you can enjoy the love of owning a pet without having to deal with the grief that comes with losing a companion. Birds also enjoy social interaction, and by talking and teaching tricks to them, your bird can encourage healthy cognitive function as they display their own.
Fish are beneficial to health as well as they have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and calm your heart rate. This is the reason many doctors' or dentists' offices (See: Finding Nemo) have fish tanks in waiting rooms.
5. Pets can be great companions for older adults or young children.
A baby cuddling with their pet pug.
Are you caring for a child or older relative at home? There are many benefits of having a pet for both age ranges! Having a pet allows older adults to stay connected, provides a source of positive, nonverbal communication, and eases stress caused by Alzheimer's and dementia.
Not only do pets give children less risk of allergies and asthma, but they also encourage responsibility and empathy. Pets like birds also provide a source of stimulation for a child's brain and body by enabling their confidence and even their vocabulary.
Children with autism or other learning disorders are often better at interacting with pets than people. Pets can help children with learning disabilities regulate stress and overcome challenges brought by their disorder.