The Benefits of Having a Pet

A pet, or companion animal, is any species of animal that is kept primarily as a source of recreation, pleasure, or security rather than as livestock or hunting prey. The most popular pets are dogs and cats, but people also keep rabbits and ferrets; pigs; rodents such as gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, rats, mice, and guinea pigs; birds; reptiles; fish and aquatic animals; amphibians; and arthropods such as insects and spiders. Having a pet provides a sense of responsibility and companionship for their owners, which may help with depression, loneliness, or anxiety. In addition, a pet can promote exercise and provide an opportunity to socialize. Older adults living with a pet report decreased feelings of loneliness and a greater quality of life. Research has shown that having a pet can be beneficial for the mental and emotional health of young children, seniors, and people suffering from long-term diseases such as AIDS and Alzheimer’s.

In terms of a child’s development, a pet can teach a child empathy and compassion by providing a nonjudgmental outlet for their feelings. Additionally, a pet can help a child learn responsibility by reminding them of daily tasks such as feeding, cleaning, and exercising their pet. This can help a child develop a routine and can boost their self-esteem by rewarding them with positive affirmations such as “well done” after training their pet to perform a trick.

Having a pet can also help a child cope with negative emotions such as anger and sadness by providing an outlet for their frustration. However, it’s important to note that if a child regularly displays excessive roughness or abuse toward their pet, it’s a good idea for them to seek a psychiatric evaluation.

Even though many scholars believe that pets have a positive effect on our mental and physical health, the evidence is mixed. Mueller explains that longitudinal studies – which follow large groups of people over long periods of time – are needed to tease out the causes and effects of having a pet. Until then, she recommends considering the benefits of having a pet, and making sure that your household can accommodate its needs appropriately. For more information on pet ownership and mental health, check out this article from Promises Treatment Centers.