Health Benefits of Having a Pet – Backed by Science

I recently came across an Instagram post of a friend of mine in which she caressed a cat. “Why is petting animals so calming?” was the caption of the post. I tried to address this query but the truth is I wasn’t informed enough. So I promised that I would do my research and write a comprehensive article. And here it is! Health Benefits of Having a Pet – Backed by Science.

petting cat calming
Did you know that having a pet can offer many health benefits?

I started the research to examine the calming effects of petting an animal. Throughout the process, I found more and more stuff about the significant impact of owning a pet on our overall well-being. Hence, I couldn’t help it include all this information in the article, which, finally, meant to explore the various health benefits of having a pet and the scientific evidence behind them.

Key Takeaways

  • Owning a pet can reduce stress levels and improve your mood.
  • Pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Pets can act as social catalysts and help facilitate social interactions.
  • Having a pet can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Interacting with pets can improve cognitive function.
  • Having a pet will increase your activity levels.

Health Benefits of Having a Pet

If you are lucky enough to be a pet owner, then you know that these little balls of sunshine can make anyone’s day.

However, if you are someone who is still hesitant to adopt a pet or are trying to convince your parents to let you get one, then we are here to help.

So, let’s explore all the health benefits of having a pet that are backed by scientific evidence! This guide will help you understand why adopting a pet might be the best decision you can make for your health.

Top 9 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Any kind of pet, when it enters your home, instantly becomes your family and provides you a sort of happiness rarely anything can compare to.

Though fantastic housemates, your pets can also play an essential role in providing several health benefits.

1.   Increase Activity Levels

Having a pet at home drastically improves your activity levels, especially in the case of dogs. This is a no-brainer! When you take your dog out on a walk, it automatically means you are doing your daily walk or exercise too.

This stance was even examined by a study on young female pet owners. As you can imagine this study supports that those who owned a dog or any animal that they had to take out on a walk showed more walking as a leisure time activity than those who did not own a pet.

walking dog activity levels

The evidence becomes stronger with the following review. This review encompassing 29 studies focused on the comparison of physical activity levels between dog owners and non-dog owners.

The findings were quite revealing. Approximately 60% of dog owners engaged in walking their pets, averaging around 160 minutes per week across four walks. This routine translated into a measurable impact on overall physical activity levels.

As a result, dog owners have a more active lifestyle, which is crucial in maintaining physical health.

2.   Improved Cardiovascular Health

The cardiovascular benefits of having a pet are manifest mainly in 2 ways.

  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Lower Cholesterol Levels

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure tends to increase the risk of several conditions like stroke and myocardial infarction. However, while many factors can cause a rise in blood pressure, do you know having pets can significantly decrease it?

A study on the cardiovascular reactivity and presence of spouses, pets, and friends showed that people who owned pets and had them around showed lower heart rates and blood pressures at baseline.

Moreover, for those whose blood pressure increased, it was at lower levels compared to those who were non-pet owners.

Cholesterol Levels

Firstly, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in the blood and should be kept low. Otherwise, it can build plaque in arteries, leading to heart disease or even a stroke.

Said that it seems that pet owners often have lower cholesterol levels. More specifically, a comprehensive analysis revealed that pet owners had higher lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

This could be attributed to the increased physical activity and lifestyle changes associated with caring for a pet.

3.   Reduced Risk of Stroke

This health benefit of pet ownership is coming firstly as a result of the 2 previous benefits.

As you might know, a stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked or a brain blood vessel bursts. Those can lead to a damaged brain or even death.

Two of the main stroke causes are high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol levels. Both seem to get lower if you have a pet.

In addition, the number one way to prevent a stroke is exercise. So, the physical activity that your dog will make you do almost every day will reduce the risk of stroke.

The more interesting fact though is that particularly cat owners have a reduced risk of stroke! And this relationship is supported by scientific research. A study found that cat ownership was significantly associated with a lower risk of stroke. The results showed that cat owners had a much lower hazard ratio of dying from stroke compared to non-cat owners.

Interestingly, this was in contrast to dog owners. They also had a lower hazard ratio for stroke, but the reduction was not as significant as in cat owners.

These findings suggest that the benefits of pet ownership, specifically cat ownership, in reducing the risk of stroke may be related to factors beyond physical activity, such as the stress-reducing effects of interacting with cats.

4.   Reduce Feelings of Loneliness

There is one aspect you cannot deny when it comes to the health benefits of having a pet. Having a pet around ensures that you never feel lonely. Having pets at home means them constantly running around from room to room, keeping your house alive.

Moreover, pets tend to snuggle with you on the couch or even in bed. They give you not only their love but a sense of feeling that you have someone.

In fact, a systematic review in 2022 explored the relationship between pet ownership and levels of loneliness. The results were pretty clear: a pet could reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

READ ALSO: The 7 Greatest Benefits of Meditation, Backed by Science

5.   Reduce Depression Symptoms

Well, here is the good stuff!

– What comes after the effect of having a pet to loneliness?

– The effects of pet ownership on depression symptoms!

Several studies have been conducted that show that there is a direct relationship between having a pet and a reduction in depression systems. This might happen for many reasons. Both direct and indirect.

We have already mentioned the first reason. Pets can significantly alleviate feelings of loneliness, which is beneficial for people with depression. This effect is partly because pets keep individuals anchored in the present and distract them from negative thoughts​.

Additionally, pets require nonverbal communication which includes touch and eye contact. This usually offers comfort that supports depressed individuals.

health benefits of having a dog
The simple act of a dog greeting its owner at the door can significantly lift spirits.

Recovery from Mental Illness

Furthermore, a study conducted at Columbia University Medical Center, surveyed 177 individuals with mental illness to explore factors affecting their recovery.

The findings are pretty remarkable. They even offer the critical roles that pets play in the recovery process:

  1. Providing Empathy and Therapy: Pets were found to offer emotional support and act as a form of therapy for individuals, helping them cope with their conditions.
  2. Facilitating Social Connections: Pets also aided in redeveloping social connections. They acted as icebreakers and facilitated social interactions. This is something essential for individuals recovering from mental illness.
  3. Serving as ‘Family’: For many participants, pets served as a part of their family, either in the absence of or in addition to human family members. Somehow pets provide a sense of belonging we all need.
  4. Enhancing Self-Efficacy and Empowerment: Interacting with and caring for pets strengthens individuals’ sense of responsibility and empowerment—two crucial aspects in the recovery from mental health issues.

6.   Protects From Dementia

Dogs and cats are mainly found in old homes and nursing centers to keep older adults entertained and support them. However, have you put in more profound thought as to why their presence is recommended in these facilities?

Well, an interesting study in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed that pet ownership may enhance cognitive performance across the adult lifespan, which could help protect against age-related cognitive decline. Interestingly, owning a pet was shown to potentially reduce brain age by up to 15 years!

7.   Reduces Stress

Having pets or dogs around has proven to play a significant role in reducing stress and coping with the hectic everyday life, too. Many researches have shown that pets help lower stress responses.

This usually comes in two ways. The first is that having pets around releases oxytocin hormone, which promotes a sense of relaxation.  helps easily. This, in turn, will help you to cope with everyday stress.

The second way of reducing stress is more direct. This means getting around your pet will directly reduce your cortisol levels, which is the main stress hormone.

Dog Research

More specifically, an exploratory study investigated how dog-owner interactions affect oxytocin and cortisol levels. The study concluded that oxytocin and cortisol levels in both dogs and their owners are associated with their interaction behaviors. Such interactions, particularly those involving activating touch (like stroking, scratching, and patting), influenced the hormone levels observed.

The increase in oxytocin, known for its role in social bonding and stress reduction, and the reduction of cortisol, supports the idea that having a dog can help in coping with stress.

But what about the cat owners?

Cat Research

A study focusing on the oxytocin (OT) responses in women interacting with their pet cats provides insight into how these interactions may affect stress levels.

Here, it seems that there are no significant changes in oxytocin levels if you have a cat. However, certain human-cat interactions did correlate with differences in oxytocin concentrations.

Particularly, if the cat initiates an approach to its owner, the oxytocin levels are positively affected. So, specific positive interactions can influence oxytocin concentrations, potentially affecting stress levels.

health benefits of having a pet
Okay, we all knew that! I mean these BRRR moments with a cat are so anxiolytic!

8.   Better Sleep

Many people, prefer having their pets in their beds because they believe the presence of their pets helps them sleep better. Though you may think it is only an aspect they have created in their mind, this certainly is not the case.

In fact, several studies conducted in the UK have shown women sleeping better when they have had their cats with them in their beds.

However, this is not true if your cat keeps waking you up every night. If so, then you should sleep separately!

READ ALSO: Mental Symptoms of Low Magnesium!

9.   Promote Social Connectedness

The last benefit is so obvious!

When walking your pet outside, you won’t be the only person with a pet. There are significant chances that people will stop to pet your dog or cat. Then you’ll ask a few questions about theirs. This will promote social connectedness and make new friends through your pets.

A study conducted in the UK shows that pet owners have an easier time to make friends. We mean, given the topic of pets is a fantastic conversation starter, it is not surprising that you’ll be meeting a few new people every time.

Health Benefits of Having a Pet – Wrapping It Up!

Having pets within the four walls of your home is a fantastic feeling. These creatures not only become your friends but, over time, take a vital role as a family. If you are someone who plans on getting a pet but is confused, then we hope this article on the health benefits of having a pet was potent enough to convince you.

Hope you found this information worthy; stay tuned for more such guides! Also, let us know whether you agree with our health benefits and have experienced these results with your pets or were convincing enough to tempt your parents or your partner to allow a furry friend.

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