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The Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Pet ownership is a fun and enriching experience. Pets make great companions and help improve physical health. They can even improve your mental health by reducing stress, depression and anxiety. 


However, having a pet is also a big responsibility. Your pet depends on you for food, exercise, companionship and more. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a pet that’s right for you:

  • Pets need attention. If you work long hours, a pet that needs walks and attention throughout the day might not be the best fit. A dog walker or pet sitter can make sure your pet isn’t neglected while you work, or you can adopt a pet that doesn’t need as much attention. 
  • Just like humans, pets have personality. An animal’s personality and enthusiasm can determine if you’re a good match or not. If you want a running partner, you’ll want a dog with high energy levels. If you’re more of a homebody, a pet that doesn’t need walks, like a cat, is a great option. 
  • Pets are expensive. You should be able to afford the costs of caring for your pet, including food and veterinary bills. Some pets like birds and snakes need special veterinary care that is more expensive. 
  • Make sure it’s legal for you to have a pet. Before adopting any pet, you’ll need to make sure local laws and your housing arrangement allow you to keep it. You should never keep a wild animal as a pet.

While a pet can help you improve and maintain your health, these benefits don’t happen overnight—they are gradual and long term. Getting a pet isn’t a solution for acute health needs. You should still seek medical attention at your local urgent care as needed.

Here are several ways a pet can help improve your health.


Promotes exercise

Having a pet increases physical activity. Dog owners walk for 22 more minutes each day and are 54% more likely to get the amount of exercise recommended by doctors. 

Taking your dog on a walk is an excellent way to get some exercise and lower stress. Walking promotes weight loss, improved circulation, and relief from insomnia. There are several places you can take your dog on a walk, including your neighborhood, a dog park or out in nature. Going on a hike or nature walk is so beneficial that doctors even prescribe them for their patients. 

Explainers

How to Support Your Immune System

If you want to adopt a dog that will help keep you active, the American Kennel Club recommends high energy breeds like the Greyhound and Vizsla. Dogs aren’t the only pet that can keep you active, though. You might consider investing in a horse if you have the resources. 

Creates social opportunities

Have you ever seen a dog and instantly wanted to pet it? Many people feel this urge around other people’s pets.  Although potentially annoying, this is one of the many benefits of having a dog! Our furry friends can create social opportunities just by being by our sides. 

Not only does going on walks promote exercise, they also allow us to interact with and befriend people in our neighborhoods. Nearly half of dog owners have made friends while on walks, and sixty percent think their dogs have friends, too. In fact, having a pet can reduce symptoms of depression while also improving your vital signs. These benefits may increase the quality of social interactions when they happen and help increase self-confidence over time.

Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol

Pet ownership also has a positive influence on blood pressure. Dog and cat owners have lower rates of high blood pressure—even among people with similar weight and socioeconomic status. 

These heart healthy benefits persist even though the normal range for blood pressure keeps shifting. Take note of what is normal for you and keep an open line of communication with your doctor. If high blood pressure is one of your health concerns, adopting a dog might help you keep it at a healthy level.  

Can help prevent certain diseases

Lack of exercise and high stress levels are two factors that influence the development of chronic illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s a link between a sedentary lifestyle and chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Regularly walking a pet encourages a healthy weight and decreases your likelihood for getting these chronic illnesses. Increased physical activity can also help you fight insomnia, avoid dementia and manage arthritis. 

Emotional stress can also increase your risk for a cardiovascular event. Pet therapy has calming effects that help reduce emotional stress and improve mental health. 


Benefits to mental health

Pet ownership can add structure and purpose to your everyday life. Having a pet promotes exercise, contact with nature and social interaction, all which contribute to improved mood, and easing anxiety, depression and loneliness. 

Improves mood

Having a pet increases the amount of oxytocin in your body. This is the same hormone that your body rewards you with when you have a close bond with a romantic partner or your child. Higher levels of oxytocin encourage an amplified sense of well-being.

Eases anxiety and depression

The mental health benefits of pet ownership aren’t limited to improving a bad mood. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, it can also help ease symptoms. Having a routine from taking care of your pet can also help provide motivation, distraction and a sense of self-worth. 

Eases loneliness

Pets can also soothe you through companionship and physical contact that eases feelings of loneliness. Regular pets can help, but a trained emotional support animal or a service animal is a better option for people struggling with more complex mental health challenges. 

Even though it may be tempting, you shouldn’t adopt a pet for health benefits alone. It’s a time-consuming responsibility that you should take seriously. Make sure you’re getting a pet for the right reasons before you make the commitment!


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The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.