Happiness, Relationships

Do Pets Really Improve One’s Overall Health?

“There is nothing truer in this world than the love of a good dog.” – Mira Grant

A girl holding the face of her dog, smiling and laughing

Pets Bring Positivity

If you are not a pet owner, you may not know how much joy comes from sharing your life with an animal. Pets become an owner’s best friend and lifelong companion. But what else does having a pet offer?  Many people are unaware of the positive health benefits, both mental and physical, that come with owning a pet.  

The Physical Health Benefits of Pets

Owning a pet, particularly a dog, gives owners more opportunities to get exercise by going outside and socializing.  This increase in general exercise helps to prevent a long list of health problems.  Some examples of ways pets improve physical health are:

  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Decrease cholesterol levels
  • Decrease triglyceride levels
  • Increase exercise and outdoor activity opportunity
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Pets build a stronger immune system
  • Overall fitness and weight control which primarily comes with active dog ownership

Increase in exercise is not the only way pet ownership improves overall quality of life.  Pets bringing in more dirt and germs from the outdoors help to boost one’s immune system.  Pets are similar to probiotics, exposing owners to different types of bacteria.  

A man running with his dog in the sunlight

The Mental Health Benefits of Pets

Socializing with a dog may reduce levels of cortisol. Cortisol impacts a lot of aspects of one’s health, best known for being “the stress hormone”. Pets also provide unconditional love and companionship which can help manage our loneliness and reduce depression.  Other ways owning a pet can improve mental health:

  • Lower overall symptoms of stress
  • Higher levels of life satisfaction
  • Decreases loneliness and depression
  • Greater ability to participate in social activities
  • Higher levels of resilience
  • Gives meaning to one’s life
  • Pets make us feel needed

Community Health Benefits

Research has shown that owning a pet can benefit the whole community.  Pet owners are more likely to acknowledge and greet neighbors in the street. What better way to get to know your neighbors than to chat while walking your dog.  They are adorable and make a great conversation piece.

Health Benefits for Children

Spending your childhood around pets has different types of health benefits.  Children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and even asthma.  Children also can learn life lessons from pets such as responsibility, compassion, and empathy.  

Children that grow up caring for an animal also grow up to be more confident, secure, and active.  The companionship a pet can offer to a child makes them feel important and helps them to develop a positive self image.  Kids with an emotional attachment to a pet are also better at building relationships with other people.  

Other ways pets improve children’s health:

  • Helps with hyperactivity and remaining calm 
  • Ability to lower stress levels when needed
  • Boosts self esteem and self confidence
  • Stimulates imagination and curiosity
  • Training a dog can teach a child perseverance
  • Infants and children have a lower risk of developing a skin irritation known as eczema

Animal Assisted Therapy

Having a dog or cat with you while you’re in therapy may sound strange or even useless to some people.  Yet, animal assisted therapy has been proven to improve a person’s overall functioning by utilizing animals therapeutically.  These animals help provide support to patients throughout the healing and rehabilitation process of therapy.  

Animals are non-judgmental and accepting which helps patients feel more comfortable opening up and expressing their feelings.  Animal interaction also releases endorphins that produce a calming effect, helping the patient to feel more relaxed and safe.  As a result, this influences positive therapeutic outcomes.   

How does involving animals in therapy improve a patients’ overall functioning?

  • Improved self-esteem and ability to care for oneself
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduce isolation / feeling of involvement
  • Improved willingness to be involved in therapy program or counseling services
  • Increased trust, empathy, and self control 
  • Reduced need for medication
  • Improved social skills 
  • Better problem solving skills

Considerations for Pet Owners

Before running out and getting a pet, be careful to choose your pet wisely.  Both the type of pet and breed of pet can have a big effect on your experience.  If you are not very active, you may want to select a less energetic dog.  If you do not have a fenced yard, you may want to consider a dog that is not a runner.  

Just remember, it is your responsibility to make sure to keep your dog under control at all times.  Obedience training and socialization with both people and other pets are always a good idea.  

Consider doing the following for an even better experience:

  • Make regular veterinarian visits
  • Respect the environment by following park rules
  • Spay and neuter your animals
  • Take fresh water with you for your dog to drink
  • Supervise around small children
  • Protect both yourself and your dog from excessive heat by walking when it is cooler 

You may just find that selecting and owning your pet is both one of the most rewarding decisions you have ever made.  And along with those rewards, you will find that there are some really great health benefits.

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