For some of us, just a glimpse of a kitten in a pet store window is enough to pull out the wallet and bring home a new pet. But for those of us who are weighing the pros and cons of adding a cat or dog (or parrot or chinchilla or fish) to our household, it’s smart to consider the health benefits that a pet can bring to us.
Pets can improve our physical, mental, and emotional health in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways. Here are the 9 biggest ways that they do it:
#1: They get you fit.
Dogs are the best fitness partners ever. They need to get outside and get moving every day—and someone has to go with them. If that someone is you, you’ll enjoy an increase in your overall activity levels as well as more quality time with your pup. Take your dog on walks, runs, and hikes to mix up your routine. Your dog will thank you for it—and you’ll thank yourself, too.
#2: They improve your hormone balance.
Simply being around our pets lowers our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and boosts our levels of serotonin (a feel-good hormone). According to Web MD, this effect is even seen in people watching fish swim around a tank—so don’t discount the benefits of owning even the tiniest pets.
#3: They reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks
Cats also play a particular role in better health. Cat owners are a third less likely to experience a stroke than non-cat owners, according to a study from Minnesota University. Also, the American Heart Association reports that owning any type of pet improves your cardiovascular health; the cause is most likely a combination of better mood, emotional support, and increased movement.
#4: They lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
According to the CDC, owning a pet can decrease both your cholesterol and your blood pressure levels. For men in particular, the effects on cholesterol are particularly pronounced. The reason for this is complicated and not completely understood, but it’s also most likely a combination of better mood, more exercise, and lowered stress.
#5: They help you meet people.
Everyone loves to take a moment to stop and pet a dog. Walking your dog around your neighborhood or a dog park gives you an opportunity to socialize with passersby and other dog owners, and to meet others in your neighborhood. This is especially beneficial for people who live alone and who might suffer from feelings of isolation.
#6: They reduce loneliness.
It makes sense that owning a pet can make you feel less lonely. After all, if you own a pet, there’s always someone waiting for you at the door when you come home. However, this important health benefit comes with a catch. Pet owners who are highly attached to their pet but have little outside social support can actually feel lonelier than people who don’t own pets at all (according to Psychology Today). So owning a pet definitely does alleviate feelings of loneliness—just as long as you have other social bonds as well, and you do not depend on your pet for your emotional needs.
#7: They can help you through depression.
People with depression can experience solace through their pets. The affection, companionship, better health, and higher activity levels associated with pets can help people during dark times in their lives. Also, being the sole provider for an animal can give depression sufferers a feeling of responsibility. Getting up every day to feed and care for a dependent animal can imbue a depression sufferer with a sense of purpose.
#8: They can help you stay independent.
We’ve all heard of seeing dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for the deaf. But what about seizure dogs, diabetes dogs, and cardiac alert dogs? These incredible canines can help people with serious health issues navigate life without a round-the-clock human caregiver. And what they can do—diabetes dogs can sense changes in a person’s blood sugar and alert them about it—is truly an inspiration.
#9: They can give unconditional love.
Pet relationships are blissfully uncomplicated. They love their owners unconditionally, show no judgment, and are generous with their affection. For this reason alone, we’re happy to have one!