9 Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

There are many health benefits of owning a pet. Regardless of the type of pet you get, most pets will provide you with companionship, help you relieve stress, encourage self care, help you build healthy habits and help alleviate many symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Some pets, such as dogs, cats, or horses, can be more appreciative of your companionship than goldfish, reptiles or hamsters. Yet all of them can provide similar mental health benefits listed below.

How Does Owning a Pet Improve Your Mental Health?

Pets Provide Companionship

A presence of a pet in your life alone can reduce the feeling of loneliness by providing companionship. Just knowing that your pet is home waiting for you brings up a warm feeling of being needed and wanted.

Oftentimes, their companionship can also provide us with a sense of belonging. It’s not just you, but rather the two of you against the world.

Since our pets are always there, they also provide stability and friendship on a daily basis.

physical and mental health benefits of owning a pet

Pets Encourage Communication

Talking to your pets can also provide a sense of comfort and reassurance. 

Research suggests that we may feel more at ease around animals than we sometimes feel around people. One example provided is that we tend to use our ‘baby voice’ when talking to our pets, which indicates that we are much more comfortable conversing with our pets than we think.

In addition, it has been shown that boys and men have a harder time communicating with people than girls and women do. Some research shows that boys and men feel more comfortable opening up to their dogs than to people, suggesting that it is very helpful in ‘getting things off their chest’ while communicating with their pets.

Pets Help Relieve Stress and Calm Anxiety

Pets provide a sense of calm and relaxation. Studies show that just holding or petting an animal makes our body release oxytocin and reduce the levels of cortisol. 

Increase in oxytocin, the “love hormone”, helps one enjoy the moment and relax the tension created by stress or anxiety. On the other hand, reduction in the stress hormone – cortisol, helps us feel more in control and allows us to think more clearly.

Pets Improve Symptoms of Depression

It has been known for a long time that pets can help with symptoms of depression. Research shows that interacting with animals for 10 minutes can reduce cortisol levels, and boost serotonin and dopamine productions. These two chemicals are known to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In addition, taking care of our pet makes us feel needed and gives more meaning to our life. It provides us with a sense of structure and gives us a sense of purpose. Several studies suggest that those who were tasked with caring for their pets were less depressed than those who did not have pets in their lives.

Pets Encourage Self-Care

Pet ownership has been shown to promote self-care and health benefits such as reduced stress, improved mood, and increased activity levels.

By taking care of our pet, we are also more likely to spend time and take care of ourselves. In fact, studies have shown that pet owners are more likely to make time for personal care, exercise, and sleep. When we take the time out of our day to spend with our animal, it is easy to notice the positive changes in our life.

physical and mental health benefits of owning a pet

Pets Help Build Healthy Habits

Taking care of pets encourages regularity and routines which are important to lead a healthy life. Regular walks, feeding, changing the litter box or cleaning the cage bring consistency to our life. Oftentimes, pet owners build on those habits by adding their own personal habits which contribute to their mental and physical well-being.

How Does Owning a Pet Benefit Your Physical Health? 

There are many physical benefits to owning a pet as well. 

Pets, Especially Dogs, Encourage Exercise

Pets, especially dogs, are also great at helping us improve our physical health through daily exercise. The responsibility of pet ownership means we’ve got a consistent motivation to go for a walk or to a dog park for some exercise and to make sure our pet is happy and healthy. 

Pets Provide an Opportunity to Spend Time Outside

In addition to physical movement, having to walk the dog provides us with an opportunity to spend time outdoors. And as we all know, spending time outdoors, especially in nature, provides many mental health and physical benefits.

Pets Help Lower Blood Pressure

In addition, a study presented at the 22nd Annual Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine found that patients with borderline hypertension managed to lower their systolic blood pressure just two to five months after adopting a pet.

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Animal Therapy as an Option for Those Who Don’t Own a Pet

You don’t need to own a pet to get the same benefits. Animal assisted therapy can give you just as many benefits as owning a pet.

Types and Length of Therapy Session

There are many forms of pet therapy.  The animals that are used for therapy most often include dogs and horses. Some of the therapies are as simple as a pet handler visiting their patient in a hospital. Others are more involved, where a patient visits a stable, takes care of the animal and interacts with it for a longer period of time. A therapy session can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. And depending on the need of the person seeking therapy, sessions can be scheduled anywhere from several visits per week to one visit a month.

Who is the Animal Therapy for?

Many people, big and small, can benefit from animal therapy.

Animal therapy is often used with autistic and anxious children and adults. It is beneficial for those dealing with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Animal therapy also helps people with post traumatic stress disorder or depression. In addition, it helps many of the elderly in long-term care facilities, including those with dementia.

Benefits of Pet Therapy

Simply attending or participating in a pet therapy session can have all of the above mentioned benefits. Just spending some time with a therapy dog can make a positive impact on one’s mental health.

Similarly to owning a pet, being around animals in general, even for short periods of time has similar benefits to those mentioned above. Spending time with animals can lower your blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health and diminish physical pain. Plus, it helps your body calm down by releasing endorphins and produces a relaxation response.

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Regardless if you own a pet, play with your friend’s pet or attend an animal therapy session, being around animals in general will improve your mood and benefit your physical and mental health in many different ways.

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