What Are The Health Benefits Of Having Pets?

My cat is sick.  She has been coughing for a few weeks, which is unusual for cats.  Yesterday I took her to the doctor and found out she has asthma (I didn’t know cat asthma was a thing…) and pneumonia.  Yesterday I started her on her medicine and she already seems to be feeling better.

Because my cat has been on my mind this week, I got to thinking about how much better my life is because she (and her sister) are in it.  I started to wonder if people with pets are healthier than those who don’t have companion animals.  What are the health benefits of having pets?

There was an interesting article in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine that explored this very topic.  I learned a new word – ZOOEYIA – which is the term for pets’ benefit to human health.

Turns out there is a huge amount of research of all different types of studies that supports the benefits of having pets on human health.  Pet ownership is pretty widespread.  It is estimated that 68% of us in North America, including over three quarters of all children, have at least one pet in their home.  (Here’s a sad fact – children are more likely to live with a pet than with their biological father or with a sibling.  That’s a topic for another day.)

There are four main ways pets benefit our health.

Builders of Social Capital

Having pets enhance feelings of happiness and belongings and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.  As I’m sitting here my cat is trying to climb into my lap (never mind that the computer I’m trying to use to write this post is already in my lap!) and get my attention.

Pets tend to decrease the impact of stressful events on our health.  Medicare patients that have pets see the doctor less often and have lower medical costs.

Harm Reduction

Having a pet is a great way to motivate someone to reduce their harmful behaviors.  One good example is cigarette smoking.  Cigarette smoke is harmful for cats and dogs just as it is for humans.

Many people who aren’t motivated to quit smoking for their own health are more willing to tackle smoking cessation for the benefit of a beloved pet.

Motivators of Change

I can’t tell you how often when I ask about exercise that patients say they walk the dog every day.  Hooray!  Your pup is making you healthier!  Kids with dogs are more physically active than kids who don’t have dogs.  Dogs are a great exercise “buddy” and are always up for a good brisk walk.

Participants in Treatment Plans

Having a pet can directly impact your health in a positive way.  There was a study published where a pet was better than a pill at controlling high blood pressure in response to a stressful life event.  Patients with mental health problems like anxiety and depression respond well to pets.

Having pets isn’t completely without risks.  Some pets can transmit so-called zoonotic diseases to humans.  People, especially small children, are at risk of being injured by animals.  And pet owners can take on a large financial burden if a beloved pet falls sick and needs expensive treatments.

All in all, however, having companion animals in your life enriches your life and helps improve your health.  If you choose to add a new furry or feathered family member, please consider adopting rather than buying from a pet store or breeder.  Most shelters have cats and dogs, of course, but many also have rabbits and reptiles and other species available for adoption.

QUESTION: Do you have pets?  Do you feel they improve your health?

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