Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
January 5, 2014
Beautiful dog at Crissy Field, San Francisco - benefits of having a pet

The pet-owner bond is a beautiful and significant one. Joy, companionship, play, meaning, and unconditional love are but a few of the words that most pet “parents” would use to describe these relationships.[1]  Science is now confirming what we intuitively know, that our four-legged friends contribute not only to our general sense of wellbeing, but also in specific and tangible ways when it comes to physical, social and emotional health.

Researchers from Miami University and Saint Louis University outlined the many benefits of having a pet in their article, “Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership,” summarized below:

1.) Those with pets exercise more, have higher self-esteem and report less loneliness in comparison to non-pet owners.

2.) Pet owners tend to be more conscientious, less fearful and less preoccupied (but, it’s possible that they are already this way to begin with).

3.) Pet owners who have heart attacks survive longer than non-pet owners.[2]

4.)  Elderly patients with pets have fewer physician visits than those who don’t have pets.[3]

5.)  Men with HIV who have pets report less depression.[4]

6.)  Pet owners appear to be as connected to other human beings as non-pet owners; pets don’t replace these relationships (this is referred to as the “complement hypothesis” because pets complement, rather than compete with, other social resources)

In addition to the aforementioned findings, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that:

7.)  Individuals with hypertension have better control of their blood pressure when they have a pet

The professor who conducted this research, Karen Allen, PhD., said:

“This study shows that if you have high blood pressure, a pet is very good for you when you’re under stress, and pet ownership is especially good for you if you have a limited support system.”

Of course, on a basic level, having a pet can provide things like added home security (guard dog) or vermin control (cat to catch the mice).  But, it’s more fun and interesting to know that science now shows that having a pet goes beyond this to being good for the body and mind.

And,  it appears that it doesn’t matter which type of pet you have. So whether you want (or have) a cat, dog, bird, or chinchilla, go ahead and enjoy the positive consequences of pet ownership!

Addendum: NY Times contributor Jane Brody just wrote a piece (4/7/2014) called “Life with a Dog: You Meet People” that explores the benefits of having a pet outlined above.  It’s a sweet short post that’s worth the read.

[1] Excluding those who are incapable of caring for a pet in a responsible manner.

[2],3, 4 These studies were “correlational,” which are more limited in validity, in comparison to experimental designs, so this research needs to be explored further.

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