How Pets Can Improve Our Mental and Physical Health


Taking care of a pet requires attention to detail and regular interaction with the animal. For some people, that interaction creates a strong emotional bond with the animal, providing companionship and even helping them cope with stress and depression. Others find their pets help them exercise, keep them company and provide a social outlet.

Many of us know that pets bring joy and unconditional love to our lives. But few understand just how much a pet can improve our mental and physical health. Pets increase levels of oxytocin in the body, the same hormone produced when we interact with a loved one. Oxytocin has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce feelings of anxiety and increase feelings of well-being. Pets also teach us to live in the moment. They do not worry about the past or the future and their presence can help us become more mindful and appreciate life’s simple pleasures.

Pets can be therapeutic for those living with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. For example, the rhythmic movement of petting a cat or dog can reduce pain. A pet can also be a companion for someone who is bedridden. They can help reduce loneliness, provide affection and even offer physical support by walking with you or simply sitting beside you while you watch television or read.

Children who take care of a pet can learn important lessons about responsibility, compassion and respect for all living things. They can learn to read an animal’s body language, for instance, by observing the way a dog or cat wags its tail when it is happy. They can also develop empathy by learning about how a pet suffers from illness, accidents and death. Children can also experience the grieving process if they lose their pet. Developing respect for other animals can help children learn to treat themselves and other humans with dignity.

A pet can be a good tool to help children with behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and ADHD, according to a study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. It can also teach a child to practice self-care and develop healthy relationships with other people, including family members, friends and neighbors. A pet can also help a child build self-esteem by providing them with a sense of belonging and giving them a job to do.

Animals that are kept as pets can sometimes be a hindrance to their natural environment. They may be unable to adapt to the different habitats and lifestyles in human households and could even be put at risk of injury or illness. They can be exposed to toxins, trash and chemicals that are not appropriate for their species and may need special accommodations such as a place to retreat when stressed or uncomfortable.

While many families enjoy the companionship of pets, some people cannot responsibly care for a pet. Small children or elderly adults with mobility issues should avoid larger breeds of dogs and should consider the size and energy level of a pet before purchasing. Large or rambunctious dogs can accidentally injure or knock over small children and the elderly.