Can a pet keep you healthy? Here’s how to unleash the health benefits of pet ownership.

Can a pet keep you healthy?

Pet parents already know it: Our fur- and feather-babies are pretty amazing. Dogs and cats, guinea pigs, birds and more bring joy, laughter and unconditional love to our lives. But can a pet keep you healthy?

Yes, pet ownership can have profound health benefits when the pets and owners live in an otherwise healthy environment. Aside from centuries of anecdotal evidence about the positive connection between pets and health, both pet owners and the medical community have noted that pets’ effects on health are real, tangible and often overwhelmingly positive.

Studies have shown that owning a pet can have a profoundly positive impact on both our physical and mental well-being. Although owning a pet can’t replace a relationship with a primary care provider, your bond with your pet can be important in your day-to-day life.

Here are a few ways pets can help keep us healthy:

Physical health
  • Heart health: Pets have a soothing effect on humans, which is valuable in reducing certain health risks. Dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which reduces their risk of heart attacks and strokes [1].

  • Physical activity: Taking a dog for a walk or playing fetch with a cat gets us moving and increases our physical activity levels. This can help us maintain a healthy weight, improve our cardiovascular health and reduce our risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes.

  • Immune system: Pets can help boost our immune systems by exposing us to different types of bacteria. This can be especially beneficial for children, who are still developing their immune systems.

Mental health
  • Stress and anxiety: Interacting with pets can lower stress levels, decrease anxiety and improve mood [1]. This is because pets provide unconditional love and companionship, which can help us feel calm and relaxed.

  • Sense of purpose: Providing care for a pet gives us a sense of purpose and responsibility, which can be especially important for older adults or people who live alone. This can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

  • Improved social interaction: Owning a pet can be a great way to meet new people and make friends. Dog owners often strike up conversations with other dog owners while walking their furry companions. A pet brings an extra level of connection between people who bond over a shared love of animals.

  • Reduced depression: Pet ownership can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety [1]. This is likely due to the calming effect of positive human-animal interactions.

Benefits for everyone

The benefits of pet ownership extend to people of all ages and backgrounds. Children who grow up with pets learn valuable lessons about responsibility, empathy and compassion. Older adults who own pets are more likely to be active and engaged in their communities. And people of all ages can enjoy the companionship and unconditional love that pets offer.

If you're looking for a way to improve your physical and mental health, consider getting a pet. Here are some valuable tips for choosing the right one and caring for a pet:

  • Do your research: Choose a pet that is a good fit for your lifestyle and living situation. For example, if you are active, consider an energetic pet that requires regular physical activity. Those who are sedentary, have poor balance or are prone to falling should choose a calm pet that is not likely to jump on people.

  • Consider adoption: Give a homeless animal a loving home. Adopted animals cost less to bring home than pets from a breeder, and the money savings is better spent on professional training and supplies. Plus, you’ll get extra warm-fuzzies knowing you made an animal happier than it would have been.

  • Plan for proper care: Provide your pet with plenty of food, water, exercise and veterinary care. Go ahead and spoil them (within reason). The healthier and happier your beloved pet is, the better off you are.

  • Enjoy your time together: Make time to play, cuddle and bond with your pet. Even better if you can involve other members of the family, friends and other pet owners.

Pets are more than just animals; they are members of our families. By taking care of them, we are also taking care of ourselves.

Want to take charge of your health?

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[1] Beck, Alan. (2014). The biology of the human-animal bond. Animal Frontiers. 4. 32-36. 10.2527/af.2014-0019).

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