Health Benefits of Pets


People keep pets for many reasons, from the emotional bond that develops to the companionship they provide. They also serve a variety of health purposes, including the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness; encouraging exercise and play; improving cardiovascular health; and facilitating socialization among owners. Pets can help a person to learn about responsibility and to become more mindful of the present moment. They can also provide comfort to those who suffer from mental or physical illnesses, and they have been used as therapy animals to alleviate loneliness in hospitals and nursing homes.

Most of us think of dogs and cats when we hear the word “pet,” but other animals can be pets as well. Some examples are rabbits, ferrets and hamsters; birds such as parrots, doves and finches; reptiles like turtles and snakes; fish; and amphibians such as frogs and salamanders. Most of these pets are bred to be companions and live with people in their homes. They are often trained for obedience and entertainment, as well.

Having a pet may help to lower a child’s risk of becoming depressed, and research shows that children who have positive relationships with their pets do better in school. It may also improve a child’s motor skills and social-emotional development. It is important to teach a child responsibility for caring for a pet, and even small caged pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs can be great teaching tools.

Pets provide a sense of security to home owners, especially the elderly and those who live alone. Studies have shown that burglars are less likely to target a house that has a dog, and some breeds of dogs make excellent guard animals. Many children with autism or other learning disorders find it easier to communicate with a pet than with other people, and they can form close bonds with their pets.

The companionship of pets can have significant health benefits, and NIH is funding large-scale research to understand how the people-animal relationship impacts humans’ psychological and physical wellbeing. One of the most intriguing discoveries so far is that people who spend a lot of time with their pets tend to have healthier blood pressure. Pets can also act as social lubricants, helping people meet new friends. People who own dogs frequently stop to talk to other dog owners on walks or in parks, and they may meet people at pet stores, clubs and training classes.

While there are clear health benefits to owning a pet, it’s important for potential pet owners to consider their lifestyle and commitment before adopting. They should prepare for the expense of food, housing and supplies, and set aside money in case of emergency veterinary bills. They should also commit to spending at least an hour a day with their pet, playing, grooming or just sitting together. Finally, they should communicate any changes in their pet’s eating or sleeping patterns or behavior with their veterinarian. This will allow them to catch problems early and take care of them before they become more serious.