10 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
Find out how your four-legged friend can help boost your well-being. Pet owners know how much their furry friend improves their quality of life. But it’s not all about unconditional love—although that actually provides a wellness boost, too. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. But the positives don’t stop there. Read on to discover all of the incredible health benefits that can come with owning a pet.
LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
While some studies have found a stronger connection than others, having a pet has the potential to lower blood pressure, especially in hypertensive or high-risk patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower,” says Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the upcoming book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual. “A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.”
Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis, says Dr. Becker. “Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain,” he says. One study from Loyola University found that people who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery may need significantly less pain medication than those who do not.
According to the CDC, another heart-healthy result of owning a pet is lower cholesterol. People who own pets–and men, in particular–have significantly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who don’t have pets. However, it isn’t clear whether the pet’s presence decreases cholesterol, or if those who maintain a healthier lifestyle are more often pet owners.
A lot of the health benefits of owning a pet may stem from the mental and emotional benefits. “People who have pets are less harried; there’s more laughter in their life,” says Dr. Becker. “When you come home, it’s like you’re George Clooney. You’re a star.” This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy. “At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they’re using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Katy Nelson, DVM, associate emergency veterinarian at the VCA Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. “They’re finding the guys who have a pet are able to re-enter society a little bit easier. They’re showing a decreased suicide rate, one of the biggest health threats [veterans] face. These guys who have a pet have someone they’re responsible for, someone who cares about them. And they don’t have to explain what they’ve been through.”
HELPS PEOPLE SOCIALIZE
MONITORS BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS FOR DIABETICS
According to the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Forecast magazine, a 1992 study found that one-third of the pets living with diabetics (mostly dogs, but other pets included cats, birds and rabbits) would change their behavior when their owner’s blood sugar level dropped. Most likely a reaction to chemical changes in the owner’s body, the behavior noted in the study has resulted in organizations like Dogs4Diabetics, which trains dogs to be companions for patients at risk of unstable blood glucose levels.