If you are a pet owner you are already aware of the many joys of having an animal friend including companionship, unconditional affection and a furry face looking at you adoringly. But did you know that taking care of a pet also has many physical, social and psychological benefits as well? Science is just beginning to reveal that many positive health benefits of pets.

Pets improve heart health
Pets have the power to light up our hearts, but did you know that they can also help keep them healthy? Pet ownership is associated with improved cardiovascular health including lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and less risk of dying from a heart attack. 

But do pets actually improve cardiovascular health or are people with healthier hearts just more likely to have pets? A controlled, randomized study set out to discover if pets had the power to improve blood pressure readings in people who didn’t previously own dogs. The results: pet adopters were shown to have significantly reduced blood pressure several months after bringing their animals home. These improvements were not found in the group that did not adopt a pet.

Pet ownership also promotes independence and interdependence
The health benefits of pets don’t stop with heart health. Nurturing and caring for others is a fundamental human need that taking care of our pets helps to meet. It is also true that caring for our pets can help us to take better care of ourselves. A year-long longitudinal study of older adults showed that pet owners were less likely to show a decline in ability to perform activities of daily living—such as dressing and cooking—than non-pet owners. Pet ownership may also boost your social standing, as people with animals are often considered friendlier, more outgoing and better connected to the people in their community than people without pets. Tell that to your friends at the dog park!

Pets can help reduce stress
Everyone experiences stress. It’s an individual’s ability to calm their nervous system and return to a more relaxed state after encountering challenging situations that keeps stress from becoming harmful and chronic. Pets may relieve stress and help promote relaxation in their owners by providing comfort, non-judgemental affection and distraction from stressful problems and situations. Taking care of a pet may also increase feelings of independence and autonomy, two feelings that increase well-being and lower stress levels. In fact, pets may be even more comforting than our spouses when we are experiencing pain or a mentally stressful situation. 

Pets can improve moods and boost happiness
On average, pet owners report feeling happier and more satisfied than people without pets. These health benefits benefits of pets are increased even further when they’re considered to be part of the family. While the reasons for this boost in well-being are many, the companionship pets provide is extremely significant. Many people consider their pets to be excellent sources of social support, on par with significant others, family members and friends. These benefits may be even more pronounced for older adults who are at higher risk for loneliness and social isolation. One study of older adults living alone found that pet owners were 36% less likely to report feelings of loneliness, compared to adults in similar living situations who did not have pets.

Dogs help their owners get their steps
Multiple studies show that dog owners are significantly more likely to reach daily/weekly step recommendation goals as well as recommended levels of physical activity. Dog owners report that their animals are a strong source of motivation to walk and offer them companionship and social support. Owning cats has not been shown to increase levels of physical activity, but watching cat videos can help relax you as much as a nice walk. If you are looking to get more active, choosing a pet that requires regular walks is one way to make this happen.

What benefits of pet ownership are most important to you?