20 Ways Your Pet Affects Your Health

5 minute read

By John Hardy

Studies after study has shown that pet owners enjoy a wide variety of sometimes surprising health benefits. With an online search, you can explore the impressive list of health benefits associated with owning a pet.

In fact, a study at Cambridge University found that owning a pet produced improvements in general health in as little as one month. The stats prove it! Pets have potent (and sometimes fascinating) powers.

Owning a Pet Gives You a Healthier Heart and Lower Blood Pressure

The American Heart Association has linked pet ownership — especially dog ownership — with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.

Researchers have shown that people with a dog or cat had noticeably lower resting heart rates and blood pressure than non-pet owners. People with cats are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack, and 40 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular incident like a stroke.

Pet Ownership Lowers Your Cholesterol

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) another heart-healthy result of owning a pet is lower cholesterol. People who own pets (particularly men) have significantly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who don’t have pets.

Having a Pet Around Reduces Stress

A research study of 240 couples showed that—when conducting a stressful task—people who had a pet with them had less stress than when a spouse or a family member was with them.

Babies With Pets at Home Have Fewer Allergies

Contrary to popular myth, pets can actually lessen allergies and asthma, and build immunity. Studies have shown that children who were exposed to two or more dogs or cats as babies were less than half as likely to develop allergies, including dust, grass, ragweed and pet allergies, and were at a lower risk for asthma.

Pets Ease Pain

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis. 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.

Pet Therapy Is Highly Effective

According to the Mayo Clinic, from occupational therapy to speech therapy and physical rehab, animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, nervousness, depression and fatigue.

Pets Reduce Anxiety

Being with a pet can comfort, help ease anxiety and build self-confidence. Dogs and cats live in the moment. They don’t worry about what happens yesterday or tomorrow. They help people appreciate the joy of the present.

Pets Are a Mood Booster

People with pets are generally happier, more trusting, less lonely and less rushed than those who don’t have pets. They also visit the doctor less often. At the legendary Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they are using dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some Dogs Can Detect Cancer

Scientific reports of dogs sniffing out cancerous growths go back at least two decades. Skin, bladder, lung, breast, ovarian and colon cancer.

According to a 1989 case study in The Lancet, a patient reported that her dog would constantly sniff at a mole on her leg, and once even tried to bite the lesion off. Prompted by this, she had her mole checked out and found it to be a malignant melanoma.

Dogs Can Also Sniff Out Low Blood Sugar

Some trained dogs seem to detect low blood sugar levels. According to a British Medical Journal report, more than one third of dogs living with diabetics have been reported to display behavioral changes when their owners’ blood sugar drops, sometimes even before patients themselves were aware of it.

In two case studies cited by the report, the dogs not only detected their owners’ falling glucose levels, they even nudged their owners into eating. It’s unclear how the dogs did it, but it’s possible that they detected minute muscle tremors, or changes in the owners’ scents.

Dogs Promote Weight Loss

Various studies confirm it! Dogs help people lose weight. Public housing residents who walked therapy dogs for up to 20 minutes five days a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds in a year, without changing their diets.

Pet Owners Make Fewer Visits to the Doctor

In a major health care study, it was documented that pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to doctor’s offices and Emergency Rooms than those without pets.

Pets Have ‘The Touch’

Various therapists emphasize the positive effects of pets on the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with dogs and cats. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe when people are stressed or anxious.

Companionship Therapy Can Have Huge Benefits

Pet visitation programs at hospitals and rehabilitation centers is a concept that’s rapidly growing in popularity. Therapy dogs can encourage mobility, interpersonal contact and socialization among patients. According to the British Medical Journal, dogs act as “social catalysts,” leading to greater interaction between people and alleviating feelings of loneliness, especially among elderly patients with physical disabilities.

Some hospitals have used animals to help treat children with health or mental health problems, or elderly people who may not have the energy or resources for a live-in pet. Findings show that interacting with a therapy dog reduced levels of pain and anxiety and create increased focus and interaction among children with autism and other developmental disorders.

Pets Support Childhood Development and Self-Expression

Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of developing allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having a dog or cat. Unlike parents or teachers, pets are never critical and don’t give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security in children.

Having an ever-present dog can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t around. Having the love and companionship of a loyal dog can make a child feel important and help him or her develop a positive self-image. Kids who are emotionally attached to their dog are better able to build relationships with other people.

Studies have also shown that dogs can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids. Pets are beneficial to children suffering from autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Pets Add Structure and Routine to a Household

Dogs and cats require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps a pet balanced and calm—and it also works for people. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one look from your dog or cat, and you spring into action.

Dogs’ Need to Socialize Means More Facetime for Owners

Many studies have shown that dogs can be a magnet for socializing and conversation-starters in community places like dog parks. People benefit from regular human interaction, and having a dog to walk is a great excuse to get out there and mix it up!

Pets Are the Best Loneliness Cure

Dogs and cats are great listeners! Therapists point out that you can talk to your pet about anything! You can talk to your dog or cat about your day, your hopes, your dreams or just to vent. They don’t judge and they never, ever, carry a grudge.

Dogs Help You Get Moving

A National Institute of Health survey studied more than 2,000 adults and found that dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who didn’t own or walk a dog.

Pets Make You Smile!

There’s a lot written about ‘the power of a smile.’ Pets often make us smile and health researchers explain that a smile triggers neurotransmitters to fire and actually raise the body’s serotonin and dopamine levels, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness.

John Hardy