How Pets Benefit Your Mental and Physical Health

Posted On Tuesday, 04 June 2019
How Pets Benefit Your Mental and Physical Health

After a long, difficult day, you turn the key in your front door and your mood instantly improves... you know you’re going to be greeted by your comforting pet who is supremely happy to see you.

While pets (especially dogs) give owners an obvious boost in their mood, pets help their humans improve their mental and physical health, too.

Even more, these benefits aren’t limited to dogs, and may even include some alternative pets you’d never considered.

Health Benefits for People of All Ages
In general, having a pet or simply interacting with animals can lower the stress hormone cortisol while also lowering blood pressure. Pets can have an even greater impact on specific age groups, too.

  • It’s possible that having a dog can decrease a child’s risk of developing anxiety. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 21% of children who did not have dogs had a greater chance of developing childhood anxiety or related disorders, while only 12% of children who had a dog were at risk for anxiety.
  • Pets can help their owners live longer. According to a Scientific Reports study, single-household dog owners had less risk for cardiovascular disease and death when compared to non-pet owners.
  • Since it can be difficult for some older people to care for a pet, insects-as-pets are an option. In a study that had people over the age of 65 care for crickets, it was found that caring for insects could improve depression and cognitive function in older individuals.
How animals totally affect owners and family members is a field that’s still being studied. News in Health, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, is working with the Mars Corporation to research how pets influence childhood development, specifically when it comes to conditions like autism and ADHD.

The Benefits of Companion Animals
It’s common for people to want a pet simply as a companion animal. They picture having a dog to snuggle with or a cat who will provide peaceful, laid back company. The benefits of companion numerous, and here are just a few:

  • Dog owners get more exercise because they have to walk their dog a few times a day and play with them as often as possible.
  • There are more opportunities to spend time in nature.
  • Pets keep people on a care schedule, which is especially beneficial to those with mental health disorders that can affect their productivity and motivation.
  • Pets can be a comforting source of non-judgmental companionship, as well as a grounding presence that requires attention and care.
The benefits of companion animals go far beyond this, though, and are even backed up scientifically. According to a study published in BMC Psychiatry, “Qualitative studies illuminated the intensiveness of connectivity people with companion animals reported, and the multi-faceted ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis.”

A different study published in the same journal had even more to say on the subject: “Pets should be considered a main rather than a marginal source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems, and this has implications for the planning and delivery of mental health services.”

Different Pets for Different Types of Well-Being
According to the NIH link referenced above, the reason dogs make such great therapy animals is because they’re able to be present and focus. They can put all their attention on their owner and stay tuned in to what’s going on. In addition to being alert at all times, therapy dogs can also teach their owners a thing or two about being mindful and present in everyday life. This can be especially effective for those who are struggling with a terminal illness.

For individuals who want to adopt or buy a pet to reap the health benefits, it’s important to think about your most pressing health concerns. Do you want to get more exercise? A puppy that will grow into an energetic adult dog might be a great option. Do you want to increase serenity and peace in your home? An aquarium could be a better fit. People living in rural communities might especially consider getting a companion animal since it can be difficult for clients to access regular healthcare, including social workers, if they live in a less populated part of the country.

All types of pets, whether basic companion pets or service dogs, can help improve your well-being. Any member of the family can reap these benefits, too, from children to the elderly. Plus, you can think outside the box when it comes to getting a pet – a dog isn’t the only option. Excellent pets, especially for households with children, include fish, turtles, and birds.

One thing to remember when you own a pet is that, eventually, you’ll have to deal with losing that pet. This can be especially hard on children, but there are ways to handle the situation so it doesn’t become a traumatic event. For example, grieving together as a family can help children process the loss. Even though losing a pet can be terribly sad, that doesn’t negate the fact that owning a pet can greatly improve your life – and it’s a reason to get a new pet once you’re ready.

There are so many ways that pets can benefit the physical and mental health of the people who care for them. Whether it’s just the physical benefits of more exercise or the mental health management aspects that pets can offer, there is no doubt that having a pet can bring a wealth of positivity to people’s lives.

Ainsley Lawrence

Ainsley Lawrence is a writer who loves to talk about good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. She is frequently lost in a good book.

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