The Human-Animal Bond: 7 Benefits of Owning a Pet
Most pet owners would agree that their furry friend is much more than just a pet. Many people who own pets consider them part of their family. The human-animal bond is very real, and the benefits of owning a pet impact many aspects of our lives.
It might not always be easy to care for a pet, but most pet owners find that having a pet is worthwhile and extremely rewarding. Did you know that there are proven health benefits that come with having a pet?
While it’s common knowledge that dog owners should provide the best possible care for their pets, you might not be familiar with all the 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 unparalleled. Not only does research show that having a pet makes people happier, but it also improves overall emotional wellness. This includes stress reduction, less anxiety and decreased depression.
The benefits don’t stop there. Pet ownership has been linked with some serious physical benefits, including improved immunity, lower blood pressure, and decreased risk of stroke and heart attack.
The following are seven benefits of owning a pet that prove just how beneficial your furry friends can be.
1. Pets Improve Your Mood
Have you ever noticed that just being around 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 upset, 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 cocktail of “feel-good chemicals,” including serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin. Simply gazing into your dog’s eyes for five minutes increases oxytocin levels in both you and your canine companion, something researchers suggest offers a solid reason as to why humans and dogs share such a special bond.
It’s not just petting cats and dogs that can make us feel better, though. 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 the elderly.
2. Pets Reduce Stress
In addition to improving your mood, having a pet can help reduce stress. Research shows that interacting with animals decreases levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone connected to the body’s physiological stress responses.
Don’t have a dog or a cat? Experts say it doesn’t matter. 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.”
Something else research says about having pets and stress reduction? Simply thinking about your pet can alleviate feelings of stress — all the more reason to keep a framed picture of your pet on your desk at the office.
Sure, there are many ways to overcome everyday stress. Owning a pet just so happens to be a highly effective way to do so.
3. Pets Encourage Exercise
Need to get out and get more exercise? Having a pet, especially a dog, can help. Research shows that people with pets, dogs in particular, are more active and get more exercise. They also tend to enjoy all the health benefits that go along 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 receive from increasing their 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
When you have a pet, you’re never truly alone. One of the biggest benefits of having a pet is that they’re your best friend. They listen without judgment, cuddle affectionately and serve as an unwaveringly loyal domestic companion.
Research shows that for those who live alone, having a pet can decrease feelings of loneliness and compensate for the absence of human companionship. You can talk to your pets and they’re just going to love you. You can cuddle with or pet them and they’re not going to pull away. The human-animal bond we share with our pets offers an unconditional love that can combat feeling alone.
Pets can also help decrease feeling lonely after the loss of a spouse. One study even found that individuals who had the support of a pet after the loss of a spouse were no 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
If you’re on the introverted side or find it difficult to interact with others, a pet can make it easier to socialize with other people. Pets do more than provide loyal companionship. One of the benefits of pets is that they can also help people increase their social support and form new friendships.
Get this — 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 (think rabbits, snakes, rats and turtles) can also cause friendships to form. Pets, despite what type, can offer a shared bond and create a mutual attraction towards another individual one might not otherwise consider socializing with.
Simply put, 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 or acquaintance about your pet iguanas, having pets to talk about makes it much easier to strike up a conversation with someone else.
6. Pets Boost Self-Esteem
Individuals who possess a high sense of self-esteem tend to look at themselves in a more positive manner and experience 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. Research shows, for example, that both primary- and middle-school-aged children who have pets show higher scores of self-esteem than children that don’t experience 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 seems the closer your bond with your pet, the more likely you are to feel this confidence boost. All the more reason for increased cuddle time and time spent mindfully paying attention to 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 life filled with meaning and happiness. A pet can help give you this sense of purpose.
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 much anything else. Think about it. Our pets rely on us for absolutely everything, from getting them water and food to taking them out to exercise. Even the small act of giving your dog a tasty treat can instill a sense of purpose and be an affirming and positive experience.
The human-animal bond is one that offers more than simple companionship. It’s a bond that can inspire our lives with purpose, making them rich with meaning and increasing our capacity for contentment and joy.
It’s easy to see that there are unprecedented benefits to be found in the human-animal bond. While it might not always be easy to care for our animals, the benefits of having a pet are both rewarding and extremely worthwhile. Not only does having a pet increase your happiness but it makes you mentally and physically healthier overall.
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.