“Mom, I want a dog.”
The phrase can strike fear into our hearts, particularly if we already have too much on our plates. The idea of owning a pet often enthralls younger children, but depending on your household dynamic, sometimes it can end up being your pet instead of your child’s. However, no matter who winds up cleaning the litter box or taking Fido out for his daily walk, having a pet in the home will no doubt change you, and your family, for the better.
We often think about having pets in the context of making our children happy or having a companion around because they’re cute, but studies have shown that owning an animal can actually bring some great health benefits to your life. Smaller animals that you can’t interact with much, like fish or birds, may not exactly fulfill your wildest health dreams. However, dogs, cats, and even hamsters can all add to your overall well-being. Let’s explore 5 reasons why owning a pet is good for your health.
1. You’ll make more friends.
Obviously, a dog owner will leave the house more often to take their furry friend for walks. Research has proven that individuals who own pets are more likely to get out of the house regularly and even find that they have better social connections.
A group of experts was curious to see just how owning a pet contributed to relationships with others, and their results were quite interesting. They conducted a telephone survey with individuals around the world, including residents of Perth, Portland, San Diego, and Nashville, and asked questions about their pets, their neighbors, and any social support they received as a result of owning an animal.
Amazingly, between 78% and 85% of participants, depending on the city, said that they got to know people in their neighborhood they otherwise wouldn’t have thanks to owning a pet.
When you think about it, it’s logical—how many times would you wave hello to someone while walking your dog? What kinds of conversations would you have with others at the local off-leash park? Even trips to the pet store to purchase items for home-bound pets like rabbits or guinea pigs can spark new relationships. This increase in socialization naturally leads to new friendships, something that improves our overall well-being.
2. It keeps loneliness at bay.
No matter your age, if you live alone, there are times when you wish someone was around. While this desire may not be strong enough to look for a human roommate, many people do turn to pets as a way to keep themselves company. For seniors in particular, having an animal in the home is extremely beneficial when fighting loneliness and feelings of isolation.
At the University of Michigan, experts conducted a National Poll on Healthy Aging and explored the impact that pets might have on older populations across America. Conducted in October 2018, individuals between the ages of 50 and 80 were asked about their relationships with their pets, as well as any perceived benefits or challenges they might notice.
The results speak for themselves: 86% of those with pets said that their animals make them feel loved, 73% of respondents said that their animal provided them with a sense of purpose, and an astonishing 88% of senior adults mentioned that their pet helped them enjoy their day-to-day life. At a time when going out for fun activities can be difficult and expensive, it’s amazing to see how much joy an animal can bring into the home.
While many people may find these statements to be true for themselves, it’s particularly crucial that seniors find a way to combat feelings of loneliness. Feeling isolated can actually contribute to illness in older populations, and if having a pet can help to alleviate feelings of being alone, then it’s clear that man’s best friend is just as important as a visit to the doctor’s office.
3. Mental health receives a boost.
The benefits of having a pet extend far beyond owning an animal that helps make friends and battle loneliness. Many studies have shown that pet ownership can have a true impact on one’s mental health and wellness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 75% of individuals who own an animal said they’ve seen a noticeable improvement in a friend or family member’s mental health due to having a pet.
Even for those who struggle with more serious mental health concerns, aside from stress and anxiety, pet ownership has demonstrated itself as a clear benefit. Not only do pets provide a sense of routine and feeling of companionship, owning an animal also helps individuals manage medical symptoms and better process triggering experiences.
As we discover more about just how beneficial animals can be for one’s health, there’s been an increase in the use of pet therapy. By spending time with animals in a controlled setting, those with mental health concerns can experience a range of positive outcomes, including overcoming speech and emotional disorders, increasing self-confidence, and reducing anxiety.
4. Exercise becomes easier.
The desire to hit the gym before the sun rises or squeeze in a yoga session before bed is admirable, but how many of us actually take the steps to make it happen? Statistics show that Americans spend nearly $2 billion on unused gym memberships, demonstrating that getting regular exercise is difficult for many. With a pet, the ability to get some sort of physical activity on a consistent basis is far easier than for those without.
While you won’t be taking your gerbil for a stroll around the block anytime soon, studies have shown that dog owners are in a prime position for getting more steps in per day. In fact, a study published in BMC Public Health notes that individuals who have a dog walk 22 minutes per day more than those who don’t. Rather than just casually making their way around the neighborhood, this exercise was of a moderate pace.
Walking isn’t the only thing that helps dog owners exercise more often. Running around in the backyard playing fetch can also help to increase your heart rate, and offers some beneficial cardiovascular activity. While the jury is still out on whether those who own other animals enjoyed similar levels of increased activity, the data certainly points to the benefits of having a furry best friend around.
5. Children can breathe easier.
Some individuals are truly allergic to animals, making the concept of a family pet hard to swallow. Although some breeds of cats and dogs are hypoallergenic, they can be quite expensive and may not be a great option. However, families with very small children who don’t exhibit any kind of respiratory issues may want to consider adopting a pet, or even a farm animal, for the future health of their child.
A Swedish study examined the relationship between school-aged children and the instances of allergies and asthma, and concluded that early exposure to animals significantly reduced the risk of respiratory issues. In fact, the study suggests that having an animal in the home when your young ones are under the age of 6 is the ideal time. Although, with so many benefits of pet ownership out there, any age is great for introducing pets into the home.
Is it all positive?
It’s clear that owning a pet brings about a wealth of benefits to your health and well-being, and we’ve only scratched the surface on the many ways an animal can enhance your life. While it’s great to be able to make more friends and have less stress, does owning a pet bring any potential negatives to one’s overall quality of life?
Some might argue that the stress involved in potty training a puppy, having to regularly clean a litter box, or looking for the pet snake after your child lost it somewhere inside the home can be notable drawbacks. Pet owners do spend more money on their animals as well, and aside from purchasing food and flea medication, veterinarian bills can be costly if your pet is sick or injured.
Ultimately, the decision to have a pet is one that needs to consider carefully, rather than making a spur of the moment decision. Weighing all of the pros and cons, along with thinking about your personal family dynamic, is critical to ensuring that your new furry friend is a good fit and will have a forever home with you. Just like many things in life, owning an animal may not always be fun and games, but the ways having a pet enhances your health and well-being are certainly beneficial enough to make the job worth it.
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