Everyone owns or knows someone that owns a pet. People love their pets, sometimes even more than the people around them. We do a lot for our furry friends, but what you may not know is that they do a lot for you too!
How is that?
Science is quite clear: Although we are long past the days where pets had duties beyond being a companion, they continue to help the humans they love in many significant ways!
There have been countless studies examining the psychological and physical benefits of owning a pet, and today we’ll look at all the evidence out there with results that may surprise you!
We’ve wrapped it all up in the infographic and below, there’s a bunch of awesome scientific facts.
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Cut down the stress
Many people turn to their pets as their best friends. Your pets often fit the role of your own personal therapist. They are loyal, kind, and are certainly a big part of your life. If you believe that interacting with your pet makes you feel less stressed, you are not alone.
A lot of research investigating the association between pets and stress has found that pet ownership is rather beneficial. Pets offer an opportunity for a healthier lifestyle as well as induce many different phenomena that can lead you to feel better at the molecular level. There is good reason that comfort dogs are becoming more and more popular.
Here's a report from Harvard on pets reducing stress.
Brighten up your life
The biological components of pet ownership indicate that having a pet just makes you happier! In fact, a study in Missouri found that stroking your pet had similar effects to chocolate. Researchers even argue that our ability and desire to bond with our four-legged friends is hard-wired into our brain.
Being around our pets really helps us relax and unwind. When we are happy and calm, it is not only good for our psyche, but we actually even recover from illnesses faster and appear to suffer from less instances of stress-induced illnesses (like asthma). While they aren’t exactly an antidepressant replacement for patients, they certainly can help!
We have already established the evidence that pets make you happier. Being linked to enhanced feel-good chemical levels as well as a healthier life style, pet ownership can certainly help fight clinical depression. Even in serious circumstances where depression may seem unavoidable, pets appear to do their part and are linked with lower levels of depression.
The Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study found that individuals suffering from HIV greatly benefited from having a pet in their lives. When controlling for other factors, having a pet was found to be especially beneficial for those who did not have a support system to confide in.
Pets offer an emotional support that can make even the hardest situations less lonely.
Here's a paw-some video about dogs that help fight depression at UNC.
Offer a sense of purpose
We often say how our pets are our best friends, and there is some truth to that. Pets offer us a sense of purpose and belonging that doesn’t require societal validation. They offer a way for humans to get the love and affection they need without having to rely on other people.
This sense of community can be very beneficial for those who struggle with human interaction as well as those in more complicated situations. For many, pets are the only means people have in order to feel accepted and loved.
Relieve psychological symptoms
These same service dogs can be used to help treat a variety of psychological disorders such as PTSD and ADD/ ADHD. In these cases, behaviors can often be unpredictable, and a service dog can be useful for both the patient and caregiver.
In addition to having the ability to recognize oncoming symptoms, service dogs can also be trained to find their partner in a crowd or lead them safely across a busy street. This can be very useful for getting patients back on track and offering a bit of security. With their service dog, they can find a new sense of independence.
Peace of Mind for caregivers
Those suffering from autism can also greatly benefit from this interaction. By nature, people with autism suffer from a wide range of socialization problems. Thus, autistic people tend to struggle with many different aspects of their daily lives. Service dogs are able to provide them the kind of sensory stimuli that keeps them relaxed and stable.
In other words, they can help keep patients safe as well as happy.
Service dogs are trained to recognize signs of sensory overload and danger as well. This can be very helpful for caregivers who worry that their loved one may break out into disruptive behaviors or bolt out of sight.
Help you relax
Even if you don’t suffer from a serious disorder or disease, having a pet can still help you relax. Overall, there is just something about owning a pet that helps you relax and unwind better. Many different studies looking into the associations between mental health and pet ownership have found that pretty much everyone can benefit from this interaction.
A variety of psychological and physiological components of pet ownership may contribute to this ease of relaxation. The link between an increased sense of calmness and pet ownership has been widely reported. It is even common practice for universities and other institutions to arrange for friendly dogs to visit during incredibly stressful times such as exam periods.
Boost your self-esteem
The best part about interacting with your pet is that you know they are a judge-free zone.
(Although we may have to exclude a few cats here…)
Many pets are generally attached and affectionate towards their owner. No matter what you look like or do, your pet will always be waiting as the perfect support system.
When you think of it this way, it is not surprising that pet owners report an elevated self-esteem compared to those who do not have any animals. This high self-esteem leads to a lot of other benefits that make life more exciting and people more enjoyable.
The Furry Therapist
In intense cases such as trauma, the emotional support a pet offers can really help. In times of tragedy, it can be very difficult for one to make it through on their own. Especially when a larger incident strikes and an overwhelming number of individuals are effected, a trained therapy dog can really help comfort people when a human professional is not available.
These comfort animals help clam people down and allow them to feel safer opening up about traumas. Therapy dogs were a part of recovery efforts in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting and helped many of the effected individuals come to terms with the incident.
Man’s best friend
The companionship offered by a dog can make anyone feel less lonely. They offer a special friendship and a sense of community.
This emotional support does not just fight depression. For those who suffer from certain anxiety disorders, it can be difficult to relieve feelings of loneliness without suffering some sufficient amounts of stress. A pet can be a perfect way for you to cure loneliness while teaching you how to socialize with others around you.
There are even professionally trained service dogs to help patients battle social anxiety. Dogs can learn how and when to offer their services to make your life just a little bit easier.
Here's a video on a service dog that helped a bride fight anxiety!
Assist the eldery
Certain service dogs can even be trained to deal with some serious memory deficiencies such as dementia. Trained service dogs can not only assist loved ones suffering from dementia, but empower them. These specific service dogs know what to do in the absence of commands from their owner, even being able to remind them to wear Exelon patches. They offer an amazing alternative to live-in nurses so that your loved one can remain independent and safe.
Cognitive decline can be hard to handle, but our four-legged friends can help make the journey a little more bearable. Additionally, there are a multitude of health benefits that should encourage the elderly to have pets. They may even reduce the need for harsh medications.
Enhance your relationships
The benefits of animal companionship extend beyond our furry friends. Studies have found that having an animal may lead to better personal relationships with your friends and community. Pet ownership is linked with different traits that prove advantageous when making friends, such as being confident and empathetic.
According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science, people with pets not only reported a greater connection within their personal relationships, but also had a greater sense of community.
Having these feelings can lead to a much happier and fruitful life. Having a strong support system limits your vulnerability to a number of mental illnesses as well as helps keep you physically healthy!
Bring the family together
This heightened sense of connection and community also means that family bonds strengthen as well. Pets add an extra element to your household that certainly brings everyone closer together. Most people would agree that pets become just as much a part of the family as any human member.
Your pet becomes a group effort and everyone’s affection towards their furry friend will be channeled throughout the household. They become a “bridge of conversation” that can help bring more distant family members something to bond over. They add an extra element to the household that makes everyone have something to relate to.
Get that oxytocin boost
Looking at your dog can induce oxytocin release! Oxytocin is best known as the neurotransmitter contributing to a mother’s bond with her child. Higher levels of this feel-good chemical are associated with happiness and bonding. Research has shown that our dogs both receive and induce higher levels of oxytocin when they’re around us!
On top of the fact that your dog elevates levels of oxytocin that will fight depression and leave you feeling great, these results also provide some concrete, scientific evidence to suggest that our canine companions actually love us back. There is something incredibly reassuring to know that our dogs seem to see us as more than just a food provider. They actually love us back!
Your own personal heat pad
If you are suffering from any kind of pain or tenderness, applying heat to the area may really help alleviate the pain. Luckily for pet owners, our animals may act as our own personal heaters. Cats and dogs have slightly higher body temperatures than us. Additionally, their fur and stouter bodies help them keep in the heat. Having them sleep in the same bed as us may be doing more good than we thought!
When they are cuddling with us, they are keeping us nice and warm. When they lean against (or gently lay on) sore areas, it may even help alleviate the pain. This can be very useful, especially for those suffering from lower back pain.
Keep your heart strong
With all that extra love, one may joke that their heart will get stronger - and surprisingly enough, that’s not too far off. While owning a pet alone will not eliminate your chance of suffering from different cardiovascular problems, it may help a bit. Medically speaking, studies have shown that pet ownership is linked to many different psychological and physical factors that enhance overall cardiovascular health.
Research has demonstrated a negative association between heart disease and pet ownership meaning pet owners are less likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
Research also suggests that pet ownership is potentially linked to lower blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, and less instances of obesity.
Stabilize your blood pressure
We mentioned earlier that pet ownership is associated with a significantly lower blood pressure. Would you believe that they can do it better than drugs?
A study investigating the health of New York City stockbrokers found just that! It’s safe to say that being a stockbroker in New York City can be a pretty stressful job. These hypertensive work environments make employees vulnerable to blood pressure problems.
While many in this situation would resort to ACE inhibitors to manage their blood pressure, it was found that owning a cat or dog was also linked to lower blood pressure. Not only was this effective, but pet ownership appears to manage blood pressure better than the drug!
If you want to know more, check out the video below!
Reduce Cholesterol and triglycerides
While we examine the relationship between pet ownership and heart health, it is interesting to look at their relation to cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention themselves has reported that owning a pet can help you decrease these unhealthy levels.
Pet ownership is a great holistic method in trying to manage your heart health. When you have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control, it is easier for you to live a healthier live and avoid complications such as cardiovascular diseases or heart attacks. As this list will go on to explain, pet ownership leads into a better lifestyle that your heart will benefit from.
There is something very reassuring to know that, as pet owners, there is always someone out there who will love and never judge us no matter what.
Ease arthritis symptoms
Having a pet also offers the perfect outlet for managing arthritis. Staying active provides many benefits to arthritis sufferers. Having a dog offers the perfect opportunity to get out there and have regular exercise.
With regular exercise, those who suffer from arthritis will be relieved of some of the joint pain, stiffness, and even fatigue. Studies have found that owning a pet encourages regular exercise. That means that those daily workouts may be just as helpful to you as they will be to your dog.
Pets will not only make exercise more fun and exciting, but can also encourage healthy activity that may even substitute medications.
Reduce chronic pain symptoms
For those suffering from chronic pain, the benefits of pet ownership may be crucial for managing your illness. Chronic pain can be tiring and debilitating. It can also lead to many medications and some psychological problems, such as depression.
Having a pet can help greatly reduce both the physical and psychological symptoms of the diseases. Better yet, it can do so without the need to use medications that often have some unwanted side effects.
Having a pet can be the extra encouragement one needs to push through the pain and practice regular exercise. Other benefits such as the enhanced level of “feel-good” chemicals can help fight both the physical pain and psychological pains, such as depression or anxiety.
While a pet cannot completely replace certain medications or treatments, they can certainly be a holistic thing that can make an illness easier.
Strengthen your bones
Would you believe that pet ownership is linked to fighting osteoporosis? Researchers have found that dog owners have stronger bones than their pet-free counterparts. Having a dog results in several different benefits that may encourage this. From stronger immune systems to increased physical activity, it is no surprise that having a dog can benefit your bones.
Additionally, canine companionship encourages an overall healthier lifestyle that may contribute to increased bone health. Having stronger bones helps prevent the instance of osteoporosis. This will help keep your body strong for many dog walks to come.
Many people say that pets’ have something along the lines of a fourth sense. Although this accusation may seem a little superstitious, it is not all that far off. Scientific research shows that pets’ actually have the natural ability to detect a wide range of diseases before you even notice!
There are many accounts where people have claimed that their cat or dog had saved their life. Dogs can be trained to detect blood sugar problems and predict seizures. There are studies that report that dogs are “intriguingly accurate” at detecting certain cancers through breath or urine samples. A woman in California even claims that her dog seemed to become aware of her breast cancer before she went to the doctors.
In addition to being able to detect certain cancers, it appears that our canine companions have even more to offer in the lines of cancer research. It was discovered that dogs are genetically so similar to humans, that even certain cancers are nearly identical on a microscopic level.
The breakthrough took the oncology community by storm and gives people hopes of a new cancer treatment. Animal models are an incredibly important aspect of research. In other words, there is some dog out there helping mankind defeat cancer and save countless lives.
Monitor your blood sugar
These natural abilities can come in handy when it comes to dealing with some “invisible diseases.” Diabetes is not something that is easy to manage and often symptoms go unnoticed for some time or are thought to be harmless. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has argued that for the 20 million Americans that are diagnosed with diabetes, there are still around 7 million sufferers who remain undiagnosed.
Dogs can be a surprising tool when it comes to detecting and managing a diabetes diagnosis. With their ability to detect even the slightest changes in scent, they are able to detect deficiencies in blood sugar just by smelling someone’s breath. This noninvasive manner in blood sugar measurement can be such a great tool that medical professionals are even beginning to utilize this potential.
Here's more from Cambridge University:
A trained dog can also be used to detect seizures. This can be very useful for those that suffer from epilepsy or other related illnesses. Often, it can be difficult to recognize that a seizure is coming on. Symptoms may be very subtle, or not detectable to the untrained eyes. Preparing for an oncoming seizure can do a great deal in terms of reducing injury. With enough warning, you can get the individual to a safe place or a safer position.
Luckily, with the help of specially trained canines, this is becoming easier than ever. Due to a dog’s natural abilities, they are able to predict a seizure and warn the sufferer early.
Keep you active
As any pet owner will tell you, animals can be a lot of work. Dogs especially require a lot of attention and exercise. There is a lot of responsibility around keeping Fido active and healthy. What you may not realize is how much your dog is keeping you active and healthy.
Taking your dog on their daily walks means you now have the motivation to exercise every single day. Those walks are as good for you as they are for them! Studies even show that dogs make better walking companions than humans, meaning you walk more briskly and get a better workout.
Become more attractive
Who knew that your pet was the ultimate wingman? If you have ever though that someone with a pet is more attractive, you are not alone. Surveys conducted by Match.com and PetSmart Charities yielded some interesting results about pets and dating.
It was found that both single men and women found it attractive when someone adopted a pet from a shelter. A shocking 27% of women report that photos of pets on their online profile is a huge plus. Think about how many tinder swipes were made solely because of a cute dog in the profile picture. That means that your furry friend is helping you get more attractive and get dates.
Lead a healthier lifestyle
Pets really do bring out the best in us. Just as we do everything we can to keep them healthy, it appears they return the favor. Pet ownership encourages us to lead healthier lives. They offer an additional motivation to do things such as regular exercise or living by a set schedule.
Additionally, the lifestyle led by pet owners is also one that offers different opportunities for things such as social interaction as well. Encouraging healthy level of socialization can allow us to maintain healthy relationships that will also benefit our quality of life. In fact, just by having a pet you grow out your social circle a little bit more.
It may feel a bit counterintuitive that pets can relieve allergies instead of instigating them, but that is exactly what researchers found. Many different studies have demonstrated the benefits of bringing up a child with a cat or dog.
Children in these households reported significantly less allergies later in their lives. This was especially true when the children were exposed to animals within the first two years of their lives. This acquired resistance to allergies goes beyond pet dander. These children were also less likely to experience allergic reactions from dust mites, ragweed, and grass as well.
Stronger immune system
The benefits of pet ownership early in life extend beyond a reduction in allergies. While we are not exactly sure about the mechanics of it all, it appears that an infant’s overall health greatly benefits from this exposure.
Researchers speculate that playing with their cat or dog is actually maturing their immune systems. Pet dander and the little microbes our furry friends carry can actually be priming the baby’s immune system. We tend to over-sanitize a baby’s environment, and pets just help them get the early experience they need to fight off germs. This notion is supported by findings stating that children in pet-free homes report being sick more often than children with a cat or dog.
Keep Babies healthy
You don’t have to wait long to witness the benefits that pet ownership has on a child. While pet exposure is linked with a stronger immune system in the future, the results can be rather immediate. Infants in homes with dogs or cats are less likely to suffer from colds and viruses.
Although many people try to argue that letting babies interact with animals is unhealthy, research suggests the exact opposite! While scientists are also not entirely sure what causes this reduced sickness in infants, it is hard to argue with such promising results. Pet ownership is best started out early.
Recover from heart attacks
Heart attacks can be an incredibly life threatening and painful experience. It is not uncommon for individuals to really struggle with the healing process or even never fully recover. Researchers have made the shocking discovery that pet ownership seems to be linked to recovery time.
Individuals who owned a pet recovered significantly faster than those who lived in a pet free house. A faster recovery means a healthier body and a quicker start back into your life. Pets can help guide you through the recovery process and encourage you to get healthier. In many ways, they just might be the key to a longer life.
Teach valuable life lessons
Pets are often used as the ultimate lesson in responsibility. They are a living thing that we are allowed to care for the entirety of their existence. There are always ups and downs when it comes to the journey of life, and animals offer the perfect opportunity to teach about this.
Pets teach us about consequences as well as how hard it is to watch over something. We learn how to love and cherish something. We even learn how to put their needs in front of ours at times.
In a more serious tone, they are often a child’s first example of life and death. This very important lesson that pretty much everyone has to face at one time or another. The death of a pet can be a traumatic experience, but a very educational one as well.
Pets do a lot for us!
Whether or not we realize it, pets do just as much for us as we do for them. They are a crucial part of mankind that can really enhance your quality of life. Scientific research has even come forth to back up claims we’ve known for years - pets are paw-some.
If you are someone who has now been inspired to take on a pet, there are many options available to you. Adopting a pet is a great way for you to experience the joy of pet ownership while giving an animal a much-needed home.