The benefits of having a pet far outweigh the responsibilities.
As much as we all seek good health, we're not often tenderly attached to our health care providers. Can you imagine doing the daily crossword with your cardiologist by your side or taking morning walks with your endocrinologist? While your pet clearly doesn't qualify as a health care provider, they may be very beneficial to your health.
Studies show the benefits of having a pet include powerful treatment—and prevention—for many common medical conditions. You might be surprised to learn just how many ways your pet is helping you thrive.
When Fido vaults joyfully toward you as you walk through the door, your heart health gets a boost! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, owning a pet can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Whether you own a dog or a cat, both have been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease. As an added bonus, the health benefits of pet ownership can be felt at any point in your life. Even if you've already had a heart attack you're likely to increase your longevity if your share your home with a dog.
When your cat stretches out his white-tipped paws on your lap, your brain floods your body with chemicals that boost feelings of calm and comfort. Among these is serotonin, the same brain chemical that most prescription antidepressants are designed to boost.
Petting your cat, rubbing your dog's belly, grooming a horse—all of these activities increase levels of oxytocin, the brain chemical that calms your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and stress levels, quickly improving your sense of well-being. In fact, simply looking into your dog's eyes can boost your levels of oxytocin.
The feel-good benefits of having a pet don't just occur in the moment. Research shows that pets may help with symptoms of chronic mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and even PTSD.
Who knew that taking your dog for a walk could provide you with a whole slew of health benefits? Doing this simple task every day means you are more likely to meet daily exercise requirements, which can help lead to better overall health and weight management.
Regular strolls with your dog can also help you feel more socially connected. You may often find yourself in a friendly chat with another dog owner at the park or shooting the breeze with a neighbor working in their garden.
If owning a cat or a dog is not an option for you, don't worry! Lots of different pets have been shown to positively impact their owner's mental and physical health—even fish. Watching a goldfish swim in their bowl may lower your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and improve your mood. There may be a good reason your dentist has a fish tank in the waiting room after all! Fish also have the added benefit of being a relatively inexpensive pet that is easy to care for. So, why not bring one home? Chances are, you'll soon be enjoying the many benefits of having a pet.
By Nancy Burtis Boudreau
American Psychological Association, The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of 'Everyday People'
Help Guide, Mood-Boosting Power of Dogs
Harvard Health Publications, The Health Benefits and Risks of Pet Ownership
American Heart Association, Owning a Pet May Protect You from Heart Disease
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Benefits of Pets
University of Exeter, New Research Finds Aquariums Deliver Health and Wellbeing Benefits
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.