The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

By: Elizabeth Fowler, DVM

TVMA Member
New Braunfels, TX

Published September 2014

Our relationships with our pets have been proven to create measurable biological effects on your health. Medical research has documented many positive impacts that your cat, dog and even pet fish can have on your well-being.

Here are some of the amazing things our pets do for us and our health:

  • Pet owners may feel less lonely and have a higher morale than non-owners. This may be because cuddling with a pet releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with love, trust and empathy.
  • A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that dog owners tend to be more physically fit and get more exercise, relating to lower rates of obesity than non-owners. The study also showed that older adults, aged 71 to 82, who regularly walked their dogs walked faster and had greater mobility inside their homes than non-dog walkers.
  • Walking dogs not only increases exercise but also tends to lead to more social interactions. Pets are an easy icebreaker and provide a place to start a conversation. It is generally accepted that people who have more social interactions live happier, longer lives.
  • The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets with a reduced risk of heart disease and greater longevity. Watching fish swim in an aquarium or stroking a cat or dog can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Pet owners also tend to have lower cholesterol levels.
  • Children raised with pets have many benefits. Pets can be a source of calmness and relaxation, but they can also be a source of stimulation for the brain and the body. Playing with a pet can stimulate a child’s imagination and creativity. Caring for a pet can teach responsibility. Training can teach perseverance and result in pride as a new trick is learned.
  •  Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown that having a pet in the home can lower a child’s risk of developing allergies and asthma by as much as 33 percent. This same study by Dr. James E. Gern shows that children exposed to animals early in life tend to develop stronger immune systems overall.
  • Alzheimer’s disease patients exhibit a wide variety of behavioral problems. Many of these behavioral issues are related to an inability to deal with stress. Research at the University of California at Davis has shown that Alzheimer’s patients suffer less stress and have fewer outbursts if there is a pet in the home.

When we bring an animal into our family, we have a responsibility to provide them with a happy and healthy life. It is important to choose a pet that matches your lifestyle and financial abilities. Dogs will require more space and time than a cat. If you live in an apartment, size may be a factor as well. There are many options for pet ownership that will bring you numerous benefits. Choose the right pet for your lifestyle, and enjoy the companionship and health benefits!


References

Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk. May, 2013. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/127/23/2353.full?sid=cefffb92-3830-4e0b-a898-5725c2496390

American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing. Glenn N. Levine, MD, FAHA, Chair; Karen Allen, PhD; Lynne T. Braun, PhD, CNP, FAHA; Hayley E. Christian, PhD; Erika Friedmann, PhD; Kathryn A. Taubert, PhD, FAHA; Sue Ann Thomas, RN, PhD; Deborah L. Wells, PhD; Richard A. Lange, MD, MBA, FAHA;

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/der/branches/cdbb/programs/psad/hai/Pages/overview.aspx and http://consensus.nih.gov/1987/1987healthbenefitspetsta003html.htm

Children and allergies. Gern, J. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, February 2004; vol 113: pp 307-314.

“Everyday Playtime for Adults.” Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University, Atlanta. Lynette Hart, PhD, associate professor, University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Blair Justice, PhD, psychology professor, University of Texas School of Public Health.

Elizabeth Fowler, DVM, lives in New Braunfels, Texas. Dr. Fowler practices at County Line Veterinary Clinic.