The Power of Pets When It Comes to Your Health

You love them. They love you. And the power of that connection is good for your health.

There’s a reason therapy dogs are a common sight at hospitals and nursing homes. Research has proven that pets are good for our mental and physical health.

More than two-thirds of households in the U.S. are currently reaping the immediate and long-term benefits of pet ownership, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association. The survey indicates that 85 million households are sharing their homes with one or more furry, feathered or scaly friends.

Thinking of opening your home to a pet? Consider these benefits:

  • Pets help ease loneliness. It’s nice having another living soul to talk to, even if they don’t talk back with human words. Especially in times of isolation, like during the pandemic, pets offer companionship. Having a dog is also a good way to meet people.
  • Pets keep us physically active. Dogs need to be walked, and both dogs and cats need lots of playtime. Studies show that dog owners are more likely to exercise regularly, which promotes a healthy heart, good circulation and weight management.
  • Pets can lower our blood pressure. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), interacting with animals can calm us down, even if we’re simply watching fish swim in an aquarium.
  • Pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Stroking, petting or hugging an animal can instantly calm and soothe someone who is feeling anxious or stressed, which is why therapy dogs are so helpful in hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Pets offer unconditional love. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of coming home after a long day to someone who is very happy to see you – no matter what?
  • Pets are attuned to our behavior and emotions. Animals in the home, especially dogs and cats, know how to respond to their humans, often mirroring our tone of voice, gestures and body language.
  • Pets are good for children. Loving an animal and being directly involved with their care teaches kids about responsibility, compassion and empathy.

While there are many benefits to pet ownership, before you get a pet you should make sure it’s right for you. Being a pet owner is a serious commitment. It requires time and money to feed a pet and provide regular veterinary care. You also have to have the right living environment – for instance, a large dog wouldn’t be a good fit in a small apartment with no yard.

If you’re unable to bring a pet permanently into your home, there are other ways to get your “fix.” Even if the time isn’t right for adopting an animal of your own, you can volunteer to walk dogs or play with cats at the local shelter. Or you may be able to foster an animal temporarily. Of course, you can always offer to walk a friend’s dog or watch a neighbor’s cat while they’re away.

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Date Last Reviewed: June 17, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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