Two-thirds of households in the United States have pets, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey. Clearly, we Americans are fond of making animals a part of our families.
In recent years, scientists have been exploring the benefits of having pets. We already know they bring joy and comfort into our lives, but it’s interesting to look at what research reveals about the relationship between pet ownership and health.
What are some of the findings?
*According the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the bonds between humans and their pets can help reduce loneliness and stress, provide opportunities for socialization, and support better fitness. Pet owners may have lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol as well.
*Interacting with animals can decrease levels of cortisol, one of the stress hormones, and reduce blood pressure, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports. Animals always exist in the present moment–something we humans are not ways so good at doing. Engaging with them may reduce anxiety, create a feeling of calm, and help us focus on mindfulness.
*According to the NIH, some research suggests that dogs can help children with ADHD have improved focus and fewer behavioral issues. Another study found that kids with autism spectrum disorder were less anxious and experienced better social interactions after playing with guinea pigs.
*In 2015, a systematic review published in Frontiers in Psychology examined the impact of AAI (animal-assisted intervention) on individuals dealing with trauma. That research suggested that AAI may be a useful complement to primary forms of treatment; it can provide short-term improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety.
*A lot of research in this area has focused on dogs and cats, but studies have also found benefits to interacting with horses, rabbits, fish, and crickets. It seems that the act of providing care for a living creature–yes, even a cricket–can reduce loneliness and depression.
Keep in mind that it’s still unclear exactly how having pets is associated with better physical health. It could be that dogs, for example, help us stay physically active. Some research also suggests that the people who have a higher socioeconomic status, and better health, are the ones who have the ability to provide pet care.
In any case, the mental health benefits of having pets are clear. That feeling you get when your cat curls up on your lap or your dog greets you at the front door? It makes having a pet in your life worth it.