The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
1. Children that grow up with pets in the home actually have a lower risk (about 33%) of developing animal related allergies than children that don't. Studies have also shown that children growing up with pets in the home have stronger immune systems, less likely to develop eczema, and are at lower risk for asthma. More information on the allergy study is here.
2. Having pets in the household have been shown to reduce signs of stress. Spending time with your pet can reduce blood pressure, lower feelings of anxiety, and can raise levels of serotonin and dopamine (neurochemicals that have calming properties). Dogs are being put to amazing use as therapy dogs, brought in to stressful situations to help aid and calm people. Dogs are being brought to first responders at disaster sites to comfort them, in hospitals so patients can spend time with them, and they are starting to be used in dental offices and court houses to help aid anxiety. Some companies allow dogs into the workplace in an effort to reduce stress and increase productivity.
3. Pets help keep you active. Doctors recommend people get at least 2.5 hours of exercise every week. Dog owners often far exceed that goal. They enjoy walking their dogs, spending time outdoors playing and interacting with their pet. A study conducted in 2017 concludes older adults that walk their dogs get several benefits: A lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, less physical limitations, and more vigorous exercise.
4. Accountability and motivation. If you are interested in starting or maintaining and exercise program (running, hiking, bootcamp, etc), a dog makes a great exercise partner. Dogs need daily exercise and they don't care how early or late you get your exercise, they won't cancel on you if it's raining, and in many cases they make great alarm clocks helping you get out of bed and up and running in the morning.
5. All this activity and exercise can lead to helping you lose weight. Daily dog walks for 10-30 minutes helps keep you active. And in many cases in feels less like exercise and more like responsible pet ownership (I owe it to the dog) making you less likely to avoid it.
6. Pets can lead to a better social life. Use this as a fringe benefit, and not the sole reason to get a pet, but pet ownership can create many opportunities to meet new people and get involved in activities. Attending group training classes (obedience lessons) is a great way to meet people that you immediately have something in common with. While out walking the dog, people tend to strike up conversations with other dog walkers. Going to a dog friendly cafe or looking on meetup.com for group dog hikes are also great ways to meet new, like minded people.
7. Meaning, purpose, and responsibility. A pet can help establish a routine and some structure to your day if you are newly retired and struggling with how to fill your newly free days. Just recently become an empty nester? Again, having an animal to care for can help alleviate some feelings of loneliness. Each day these pets require some attention, they need to be fed and exercised. They need someone to clean up after them, to take them to vet appointments or to a training class. You can set up a daily trip to the park or walk around the neighborhood. If you have children, they can learn responsibility through caring for a pet. They help add love and purpose to your day.
8. A dog can be trained to assist you or save your life. Dogs can be trained to warn you of impending seizures, help guide the blind, assist people with mobility problems, alert you to blood sugar fluctuations, help find people that are lost, or an incredible amount of other tasks to assist their handler. If someone has PTSD, a food allergy, or is on the autism spectrum, a dog can be trained to assist. They are even beginning to train dogs to smell cancer. These animals are absolutely amazing!
9. Dogs can help keep you heart healthy! Dog ownership has been shown to help improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These all help reduce the risk of a heart attack. Pets help reduce stress levels, and increase activity/exercise, all leading to positive changes for your heart.
10. For children, having a pet in the home encourages compassion and has an important role in the child's development, well being, and quality of life. Pet attachment in children may help regulate their emotions because the pet can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior. For more on this study, go here.