Health Benefits of Owning a Pet Are Numerous

If you are an animal lover as I am, you may not be aware that above and beyond the love and affection we get from our pets, they also provide many health benefits.

Studies have shown that owning a pet — dog, cat, fish or other — has a positive effect on the physical and mental health of their owners. Pets create stress-free environments, increase positive moods and help us to get physical exercise more often.

Pets help our mental health. Studies have shown that watching a pet — dog, cat or fish — for only 15-30 minutes lowers the levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, in the body. Our bodies actually will go through a physical change and make a difference in our moods. Reducing stress saves the body, both mentally and physically. Watching a pet allows us to free our minds of other stress-causing thoughts.

Pets help fight depression. Many therapists prescribe pets as a way of dealing with depression and/or feelings of isolation. Let’s be honest, no one loves us more unconditionally than a dog or cat. Petting a dog or cat has a calming effect, and we can talk to our pets as long as we like — they will always listen. Taking care of a pet, such as brushing or walking, takes us away from our daily problems and makes us feel better about the way we spend our time. Also, when walking a dog, there is more opportunity for interaction with other dog owners. Dogs love to interact with other dogs, and dog owners usually enjoy talking to other dog owners. Interaction is bound to happen!

Pets help our physical health. Dogs keep us active. People who have dogs tend to be more physically active than people who don’t. Walking the dog 30 minutes per day is enough to reach the minimum recommendation for healthy physical activity. If you also include throwing a ball and playing fetch, physical activity increases are more beneficial.

Having a pet can help manage blood pressure. In a recent study of 240 married couples, pet owners were shown to have lower resting heart rates and lower blood pressure than non-pet owners. Another study has shown that children with hypertension actually lowered their blood pressure while gently petting their dog.

Pets help lower cholesterol and are good for a healthy heart. Owning a pet has the potential of making it easier for us to avoid the dangers of high cholesterol. Due to the more active lifestyle that pets allow, cholesterol levels in pet owners have been shown to be lower than those in non-pet owners. In addition, owning either a dog or a cat has shown to be beneficial when recovering from a heart attack and for avoiding cardiac disease altogether.

Pets help with therapy. You have probably heard about professional therapy dogs. These dogs perform many types of assistance in treating ailments and disease. Some mental health professionals use dogs in therapy. Dogs provide a soothing environment and allow people to talk more openly about what is on their minds. Children with attention-deficit/hyper- activity disorder can benefit from owning a pet. Taking care of a pet allows children to learn to be responsible and learn about self-esteem. In addition, children can play with the pet and release excess energy, which allows them to sleep easier at bed time.

Pets help with other forms of exercise. Ever heard of “doga”? These are yoga classes that include people and their dogs. Yoga postures imitate the natural stretching postures of dogs, which can be fun and beneficial for all participants. Also, if you have arthritis, you know it is important to stretch. You also probably know it is difficult to know when you are stretching enough. In order to incorporate the proper amount of stretching, Arthritis Today recommends watching your cat. Every time during the day your cat stretches, you stretch too –and do the same stretches your cat does!

There are many reasons to love our pets. Improvements to our physical and mental health are two very important ones. But remember, it is also very important to take care of the pets in our lives. Be sure dogs, cats and others are taken for regular vet check-ups, fed daily and with quality, nutritious food, given clean, fresh water, provided proper grooming and a safe and warm home in which to live.

Our pets will provide us with many years of good health if we do the same for them.

Carrie White spent over 25 years in the fitness industry as a consultant, club owner, fitness trainer and attorney. She is now a professor, yoga instructor and the director of the LaunchLab at West Virginia University.