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10 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet: What Science Says

Genevieve Dugal

Whether you have a cat, dog, bird, gerbil, chameleon, or hedgehog as a pet, you already know all the joy and comfort that your companions bring you on a daily basis. But did you know that there are also many scientifically proven benefits of owning a pet? Discover the top 10 health benefits (and also the few drawbacks) that your warm- or cold-blooded animals can provide you.

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1. They Strengthen Our Immune System

family with dog
Image Credit: Piqsels

Our animals bring us a lot of pleasure and joy daily, but it turns out that they are also powerful allies for our health.

According to several scientific studies, pet owners suffer from fewer health problems than those who do not have pets at home. Less high blood pressure, less cholesterol, and fewer cardiovascular problems are just a few of the surprising benefits of having a pet. Indeed, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the health benefits of having a pet include:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Decreased triglyceride levels

In addition, pets also have recognized anti-stress virtues, which help strengthen the immune system of people suffering from stress and anxiety.


2. They Protect Children from Getting Sick

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Image Credit: Piqsels

Living with a dog that spends at least part of its day outdoors could boost a child’s immune system in the first year of life. Cats also seem to provide this protection, although the observed effect was weaker. Children living with pets would therefore use antibiotics less often than other children.

Likewise, infants living with companion dogs would be less prone to respiratory infections, and their risk of allergies could be reduced by 33%.


3. They Promote the Psychological Development of Kids

a young girl holding a puppy
Image Credit: Piqsels

Animals not only affect the health of children, but they also play a significant role in their psychomotor and emotional development.

Owning a pet helps toddlers develop compassion and a sense of responsibility. Taking care of an animal, feeding it, walking it, petting it, and giving it affection allows children to increase their self-confidence. The animal can be its confidant, playmate, and protector at the same time. Plus, having a pet helps soothe and calm the little ones. Owning a pet, therefore, has a stabilizing effect on their psychological development.


4. They Watch Over Our Heart

adopting a pet
Image Credit: Piqsels

In general, petting a cat, dog, or any other furry animal gives us a feeling of well-being and immediately calms us; breathing slows down, blood pressure drops, and heart rate drops, which significantly reduces the risk of developing a disease.

Note, however, that conversely, a poorly educated animal with behavioral disorders will have the opposite effect and increase the risk of having a heart attack.


5. They Create Social Ties

dog walking in the park
Image Credit: Piqsels

Having a dog would increase the chances of forming new bonds with your neighbors and fostering potential romantic encounters. As a bonus: people in a couple are less prone to illnesses than singles, making your pooch a real asset for staying healthy.

Children with pets also benefit from the social aspect that their animal brings to them: they would indeed bond more easily with other children or adults. The animal helps the child to socialize, hence their positive influence on autistic children.


6. They Help Keep Us Fit

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Image Credit: Piqsels

Dog owners walk an average of 30 minutes more per week than people who don’t. So walking your dog 20 minutes a day, five days a week, could help you lose 6 pounds in a year.

Also, it appears, although not yet proven, that cat owners would exercise more than others. The main reason? The cat, by its behavior, would communicate its energy to us and give us more motivation to exercise!

Having a pet could also be beneficial for people with eating disorders.


7. They Help Teens Get Through Tough Times

a young lady carrying a cat
Image Credit: Piqsels

Teenage years are never an easy time. Many parents are helpless in front of their teenagers, who sometimes have incomprehensible or withdrawn behavior. The pet is recognized as a structuring element of the personality of young people. If the teen does not wish to confide in an adult, he will always find a comforting “ear” in his pet.

Additionally, one study found that teens with pets exercise more than others.


8. They Soothe Us

adopting a cat
Image Credit: Piqsels

Interactions with our beloved companion reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

For example, cat owners believe that cat purring can be more effective than medication. This calming effect can be explained scientifically: the over-the-air frequency of purring is said to have a calming effect, much like music, which gave rise to music therapy. It is, therefore, natural that purring therapy was born, thanks to a veterinarian, Jean-Yves Gauchet.

Likewise, looking at an aquarium has an immediate calming effect, hence their presence in public places and especially in hospitals.


9. They Help Fight Depression

pet owner sitting beside his dog
Image Credit: Piqsels

A pet is an undeniable psychological support. It prevents isolation and withdrawal: an animal that sees its owner depressed will come and pick it up with a toy and still ask for its daily release.

Being responsible for a living being can be extremely rewarding for the individual suffering from depression; indeed, thinking that “if I’m not there, who will take care of my animal” can help find more meaning in life during darker times.

In addition, it was noted that the level of anxiety and depression was lower in people over 65 years of age with pets.


10.They Extend Our Life Expectancy and Help Us Heal

pet owner and his dog in the park
Image Credit: Piqsels

Animals help the sick to heal and the elderly to feel better.

Their presence is thus more, and more sought after in retirement homes or specialized centers (Alzheimer’s, autism, etc.) and gives rise to the emergence of a new discipline: zootherapy.

Zootherapy consists of using the “proximity of a domestic or pet animal, with a human suffering from mental, physical or social disorders, to reduce stress or the consequences of medical treatment.” It has existed for many years in Canada but is only beginning to gain recognition in the United States.

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What Are the Downsides of Having a Pet?

While the pros of owning a pet may outweigh the cons, there are a few things you should consider before deciding to bring a pet into your home. After all, your companion will be a part of your family for many years to come, so it’s crucial to think about it upfront.

1. They Can Be Expensive to Maintain

metal dog food bowl
Image Credit: Alkhaine, Pixabay

As with everything in life, adopting a pet also comes with additional expenses. Between the cost of the adoption, the necessary accessories for their well-being, food, vet fees, and other additional costs, having a pet invariably means that you will have a little less money in your pocket. For this reason, it is important to budget and to think about these kinds of questions before adopting a pet. Although tedious, these calculations are essential because your budget could determine whether or not you can provide your pet with a good quality of life.


2. They Can Be Time-Consuming

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Image Credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, Shutterstock

Sometimes, having animals is just as demanding as having children.

You can no longer leave the house on a whim; you will need to consider having someone you trust, or better yet, a pet sitter, come to your home to look after your pets if you are going on vacation.

Besides, one more downside may arise depending on your lifestyle and personality; for example, if you spend a lot of time outside your home because of your job, leaving your pet home alone for long periods is probably not a good idea.

So, you have to think about what kind of animal is suitable for your lifestyle. For example, if you prefer more independent pets, adopting a dog may not be the best option for you. Although some are more independent than others, dogs are animals that need their pack, in this case, you! If you can take some time out each day to play and spend time with your dog, great! But if that is not possible, choose another pet whose care is not as demanding.


3. They Need Space and a Proper Habitat

funny cats playing on tree
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Another critical aspect to consider when deciding to adopt a pet is the space available in our house. If you want, for example, a hamster, a small area where to put its cage will, of course, be sufficient. But have you thought about where you will place it? For example, if it’s in your bedroom, the sound of your hamster running around all night on its wheel could drive you crazy. And placing him in the living room might make him stressed out from the continual movement.

Do you have access to sufficient space for the size and breed you want when it comes to the dog? Do you have access to a garden or a large park near your home? Will the dog be able to stretch its paws and run as it pleases? What if you live in an apartment? All of these questions are essential in determining the best companion to suit YOUR lifestyle and personality.

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Final Thoughts

Any pet owner will tell you: life with your four-legged friend is smoother, more fulfilling, less stressful, and more stimulating. As a bonus, they help you stay in shape and make you less likely to get sick. They are much like anti-depressants but without the side effects that come with the medication. So, if you’ve done your homework and decided which pet is suitable for your needs, prepare to reap the many benefits that your precious furry, feathered, or scaled companion will provide you for many years to come!


Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

Genevieve Dugal

Genevieve is a biologist and science writer. Her deep love for capuchin monkeys, pumas, and kangaroos has taken her worldwide to work and volunteer for several wildlife rehabilitation centers in Bolivia, Guatemala, Canada, and Australia. As a Canadian expat, Genevieve now lives in Argentina, where she wakes up every morning to horses and cows saying hello from the vast plain next to her home office window. She is the proud mom of three rescued dogs, Lemmy, Nala, and Pochi, and a frisky kitten, Furiosa. Having the privilege of sharing her knowledge and passion for animals of all kinds is what makes her fulfilled and happy.