Anyone who owns a pet can (and gladly will) speak to the joy and companionship that is brought into his or her life by the furry friend. To most pet owners, the benefits they bring are invaluable and an integral part of their lives. In fact, over 95% of pet owners think of their pet as a member of the family, and around half buy birthday gifts for their pets. Most individuals who have grown up in homes with pets and kept them through most of their lives know no other way of living.
Although pet owners may not necessarily be able to scientifically prove the health benefits– both mental and physical– of owning a pet, they can certainly speak to their own experiences, and most are more healthier than non-pet owners. While most people have probably heard that owning a pet can be advantageous to one’s health, the majority of their knowledge rarely goes beyond traditional word-of-mouth or mainstream common knowledge.
But recently, more researchers, medical professionals and scientific experts are diving into the concept of therapy pets for emotional support, as well as the physical and additional mental benefits they provide. Countless studies are proving that pet therapy and pet ownership make for happier, healthier humans.
In addition to the well-known, general benefits of pet ownership such as companionship, improved mood and increased exercise, certain animals may possess more specific benefits to those who need them. From lower cholesterol to decreased allergic reactions, there may be a specific health benefit of pet ownership that may be exactly what the doctor ordered (so to speak) for you or someone you know.
While researchers are constantly discovering new (and surprising) ways pet therapy and pet ownership can benefit humans, here are a few of the ways that we know an animal friend could help you.
1. Going Outside
This benefit is mostly specific to dogs, but dogs are still the most common pets in the US. Every dog owner knows the excitement and joy that immediately comes when the word “outside” is uttered, and the four-legged friend is not the only one who experiences these feelings. Going outside is great for humans as well; the fresh air, nature and sunlight help elevate your mood, and vitamin D from the sun has a number of physical benefits.
2. Exercise Incentive
Sticking with the theme of dogs, they provide a tremendous incentive to exercise. From going outside for walks to simply playing in the house, dogs are naturally engaging, active and playful. This is great for humans, as any physical activity will help get your blood flowing, keep you in good shape, improve heart health and provide all the physical advantages of an active lifestyle.
3. Decreased Loneliness
Pet ownership has been shown to reduce loneliness in people who are prone to these feelings. For as long as mental health has been studied, we have known that social support is great for reducing most negative emotions and improving a person’s overall mood. But it was only recently that more researchers have discovered this social support may not necessarily be exclusive to those who walk on two legs.
4. Reduced Stress
Pets are great for reducing the stress that builds up as a result of the challenges of modern life. Simple actions such as petting or holding an animal have been shown to reduce stress in individuals. Additionally, spending time with your pet will greatly improve your mindfulness and keep you in the present.
5. Allergy Fighters
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but common fury pets can actually help to reduce the symptoms of common allergies. According to the research of James E. Gern, a pediatrician from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, children who grow up in homes with a dog or a cat are less prone to allergy troubles, particularly pet-related allergies.