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Pet Ownership: A Surprising Source of Health Benefits?

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Pet ownership may have a positive impact on your health and happiness.

Whether you own a dog, a cat, or a bird, having a pet can be an exceptionally rewarding experience. Often, our relationship with our pets makes them feel like members of the family, so we do everything we can to make sure they’re happy and healthy.

However, pet ownership isn’t just about responsibility. Did you know that there are actually a number of potential health benefits associated with owning a pet? Having a pet may not only contribute to a happier mental state, but could also have a positive impact on your physical health. 

Physical Health and Pet Ownership

One of the most obvious potential benefits of owning a pet is an increased level of physical activity. This pertains primarily to dog and horse owners (unless you’ve leash-trained your cat), and there are several studies that support the connection between pet ownership and fitness. According to this study, 36% of pet owners said that their pets helped them lose weight, while a whopping 66% percent of dog and horse owners say their pets inspired them them to become more active.

According to a 2010 study published in Clinical Nursing Research, a program that matched sedentary adults with therapy dogs resulted in an increase in overall walking and fitness. The participants stated that the reason they stuck with the program through the entire 52 weeks was because “the dogs need us to walk them.” Partially this could be due to the perception that the animals rely on you to provide essential services like food, water, companionship, and exercise (especially if the animal is primarily indoors).

There is also evidence to suggest that owning a pet may maintain healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range, and support healthy blood pressure already in the normal range. For example, News in Health cites a study that showed “Those [participants] who owned a pet were found to have lower heart rates and blood pressure, whether at rest or when undergoing stressful tests, than those without pets. Pet owners also seemed to have milder responses and quicker recovery from stress when they were with their pets than with a spouse or friend.”

Pets and Allergies

Recent research indicates that children who grow up in a household with pets may experience fewer health challenges related to dog and cat fur. In fact, Time published a recent article where researchers found that “babies who grow up in homes with a pet — namely a dog or a cat — are less likely to get sick than children who live pet-free.”

This is likely because pets offer early exposure to pet dander, as well as microbes that the pets carry in to homes. This may support immune system health in children by training the immune system to protect itself from common allergens.

Social Health

Pets not only support physical health, they may offer support in social situations, especially making and finding friends. According to the Harvard Health Blog, pet ownership is the third most popular way to meet people, with pet owners being 60% more likely to get to know new people than non-pet owners.

Studies have also shown that people perceive dog-owners as more trustworthy and are more likely to socially engage with someone when they have a pet with them. In fact, The Atlantic article “How Dogs Make Friends for Their Humans,” references a 2008 study where more people helped a stranger pick up his dropped coins when he had a dog with him, and were also more likely to give him bus money. It’s also suggested that animals (dogs in particular) give people more of an opening for social interaction since they already have a shared interest (the pet) in common.

Mental Health and Therapy Animals

In addition, owning a pet may have potential benefits on your mental health. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), owning a pet may decrease your feelings of loneliness. In  a 2016 study published in Anthrozoös journal, it was found that thinking about cats and dogs may actually provide relief from social rejection. Additionally, the use of therapy dogs has been studied for its ability to offer temporary relief from symptoms related to anxiety or depression and supporting a healthy mental state.

This is why therapy animals are often used to support mental health and are also used to provide comfort to sick and hospitalized patients, as well as children, veterans, and the elderly.

More Resources

If you already own a pet, then you likely know the joys that come with having an animal companion. We’d love to help you support your pet’s health and happiness, and we offer a variety of great, natural products for pets available here!

For more reading about supplements for your pets, check out this blog post on calming supplements, and this post about whether your dog or cat could benefit from supplements.

What has your experience owning a pet been like? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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