Pet ownership has been on the uptick for decades -- rising from 56% of US households in 1988 to 70% in 2021, according to the APPA National Pet Owners Survey. The good news for everyone on the animal bandwagon? That furry friend might also be good for your health.
If your pet needs to be walked or exercised, you may benefit from that activity with decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The affection you feel for a companion animal also has perks because pet owners can also experience less loneliness, depression and anxiety. While the science on the health benefits of pet ownership is evolving, these tidbits shine a light on how a Fifi or Fido can enrich your life.
How can a pet help you?
- Get more steps. Here’s tail-wagging news. Dog owners walked 22 minutes more per day compared to people who didn’t own a dog, according to a study1 of older adults who were independently mobile and lived in a senior community. The additional steps were of moderate intensity and averaged 2,760 additional steps per day.
- Feel the love. Those puppy dog eyes are powerful. A study2 found that oxytocin was boosted in both humans and dogs during prolonged eye contact. Sometimes called the love hormone, oxytocin is involved in childbirth and is associated with empathy, trust and relationship-building. In this study, oxytocin jumped 130% in dogs and 300% in dog owners.
- Ease the hurt. While pet therapy has long been used in hospitals to cheer patients, it might do even more. A study3 found that people recovering from total joint replacements who spent 5-15 minutes with dogs after surgery used 28% less oral pain medication. The power of this animal-human connection is thought to be in how it can reduce stress and instill a sense of wellbeing.
- Lighten your heart. Call it the power of the purr. A study4 connected cat ownership with a lower risk of dying from a heart attack or other heart diseases, though the authors couldn’t exclude the possibility that personality of the cat owner may have played a role. Another study5 found that just watching cat videos online caused people to feel more positive and energetic. Viewers reported feeling fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, sadness and annoyance, and said the pleasure outweighed any guilt they felt about consuming silly cat content.
Keep in mind that becoming a pet owner is a serious decision and a long-term commitment. You should consider several factors, including cost, ability to provide care and any allergies or health issues that may be exacerbated by having an animal in your home. Research what type of animal might be best for your family. If you have any health concerns, talk to your health care provider.