Most pet owners would agree that their furry friend is much more than just a pet. Many pet parents consider them to be family members. The human-animal bond is very real, and the benefits of owning a pet impact many aspects of our lives.
While it’s not always easy caring for a pet, most pet owners find that having a pet is worthwhile and extremely rewarding. In fact, there are proven health benefits that come with having a pet.
Although it’s understood that pet parents should provide the best possible care for their fur babies, you might not be familiar with the many ways having pets can support your own well-being. Keep reading to check them out!
The Benefits of Pets: 7 Ways Owning a Pet Improves Wellness
The benefits of having a pet are second to none. Not only does research show that having a pet makes people happier, but it also improves overall mental wellness.
Pet ownership has also been linked with some serious physical benefits, including improved immunity, lower blood pressure, and decreased risk of stroke and heart attack.
Below are seven benefits of owning a pet that show just how beneficial your furry friends can be.
1. Pets Improve Your Mood
Have you ever noticed that just being near your pet can make you feel better? You come home after a long day and forget about everything else when you see how happy they are to see you. Whether we’re sad, angry or just plain exhausted, our pets have a way of making us feel better.
Research shows that simply petting our animals can make us feel better. Petting a dog, for example, releases a combination of “feel-good chemicals,” including serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin. Taking a long look into your dog’s eyes for five minutes increases oxytocin levels in both you and your canine companion, something researchers suggest offers a strong reason as to why humans and dogs share such a special bond.
However, it’s not just our furry companions that make us feel better. One study found that even petting less common pets, like turtles and rabbits, can have the same effect. Another study found that caring for insects is associated with a positive effect on depression and cognitive function among elderly people.
2. Pets Reduce Stress
Along with boosting your mood, having a pet can also help decrease stress. Research demonstrates that interacting with animals decreases levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone connected to the body’s physiological stress responses.
Experts say it doesn’t matter what kind of animal you connect with. According to Dr. Layla Esposito, director of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Human-Animal Interaction Research Program, “If your goal is reducing stress, sometimes watching a fish swim can result in a feeling of calmness. There’s no one type fits all.”
Research also tells us that merely thinking about your pet can alleviate feelings of stress. This is all the more reason to keep a framed picture of your pet on your desk at the office!
Owning a pet is just one of the ways to overcome everyday stress.
3. Pets Encourage Exercise
Need to get out and get more exercise? Having a pet, particularly a dog, can help. Research shows that people with pets, especially dogs, are more active and get more exercise. They also tend to enjoy all the health benefits that coincide with a more active lifestyle. What’s more, dog owners are more likely to walk at a faster pace or with more intensity than people who don’t own pets.
According to research from Purdue University, dogs motivate us to exercise. While most dog owners report exercise is for their pet’s benefit instead of focusing on the health benefits they also receive from this activity, dogs can be just the motivation one needs to get out and get moving. Researchers from the Purdue study note that dogs are a “great strategy used to promote physical activity.”
4. Pets Decrease Feelings of Loneliness
You’re never really alone when you have a pet. One of the biggest benefits of having a pet is that they’re your best friend who loves you no matter what.
Research suggests that for those who live alone, having a pet can decrease feelings of loneliness and compensate for the absence of human companionship. The human-animal bond we share with our pets offers an unconditional love that can combat loneliness.
Pets can also help decrease feeling lonely after the loss of a spouse. One study found that individuals who had the love and support of a pet after the loss of a spouse were not any lonelier than those who had not lost a spouse.
“Oftentimes, the relationship we have with our spouse is our most intimate…so losing that sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that comes from that relationship can be really devastating,” says study lead author Dawn Carr. “A pet might help offset some of those feelings. It makes sense to think, ‘Well at least this pet still needs me. I can take care of it. I can love it and it appreciates me.’”
5. Pets Increase Opportunities to Socialize
Pets do more than provide loyal companionship. Having a pet can make it easier to socialize with other people if you’re on the introverted side or find it difficult to interact with others. One of the benefits of pets is that they can also help people increase their social support and form new friendships.
In fact, one study found that pet owners were 60% more likely than non–pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhood. While dogs are the most common pets that increase camaraderie, other pets (like rabbits, rats, snakes and turtles) can also cause friendships to form. No matter what kind of pet you have, they can offer a shared bond and create a mutual attraction towards another individual you may not have thought to speak with.
In other words, pets make it much easier to socialize with other people. Whether you make a new friend at the dog park or bond with a coworker about your pet gerbil, having pets to talk about makes it that much easier to strike up a conversation with someone.
6. Pets Boost Self-Esteem
People who have a high sense of self-esteem tend to view themselves in a more positive manner and have a higher sense of self-worth. If you suffer from low self-esteem, having a pet could help. Research shows that pet owners are more likely to report having higher self-esteem than people who don’t own pets.
The human-animal bond between children and pets is huge when it comes to increasing self-esteem. For example, research suggests that both primary- and middle-school-aged children who have pets show higher scores of self-esteem than children that don’t have this bond.
Another study that investigated the long-term effects of having a pet found that dog owners showed a significant improvement in self-esteem 10 months after acquiring their pet. It appears that the closer your bond with your pet, the more likely you are to feel this confidence boost. All the more reason to spend even more quality time with your pets.
7. Pets Give You a Sense of Purpose
It’s said that living with purpose makes it impossible to just exist. Having a sense of purpose is the driving force behind a fulfilled life. A pet can help give you this sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Taking care of another living being is a huge responsibility and long-term commitment that requires a lot of your time and attention, but a pet offers a sense of purpose unlike anything else. Our pets rely on us for literally everything, from providing them with food and water to taking them out to go potty. Even the small act of giving your dog one of their favorite treats can instill a sense of purpose and be an affirming and positive experience.
The human-animal bond is one that offers more than basic companionship. It’s a bond that can infuse our lives with purpose, making them rich with fulfillment and increasing our capacity for contentment.
It’s clear that there are unprecedented benefits to be found within the human-animal bond. While it might not always be easy to care for our animals, the benefits of having a pet are rewarding and extremely worthwhile. Having a pet increases your happiness and it makes you healthier both mentally and physically.
Are you a pet owner? We’d love to hear about some of the benefits you’ve discovered from owning your pet in the comments below!
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Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.