It’s hard to imagine the average American household without thinking about pets.
Not surprisingly, 2 out of 3 families in the United States have at least one pet. These pets are typically viewed as members of the family (1).
Because of their popularity, scientists and psychologists have extensively researched the mental and physical benefits of having pets.
1. Physical Benefits
Many studies have found that animals help decrease pain, stabilize respiratory rate, increase energy and improve mood.
They also provide low-cost relief from tension, anxiety, fatigue and apathy (2).
Pet therapy is now being used in some hospitals and long-term care facilities to speed recovery of their patients and improve their quality of life.
It’s also used in physical therapy to improve fine motor skills, assisted or independent movement and cardiopulmonary function (3).
In fact, the American Journal of Cardiology, published a research on more than 400 patients having suffered from a heart attack.
In the year following their hospital stay, pet owners had a significantly higher survival rate than non-pet owners (4).
Animal therapy is also used to treat patients with heart failure, cancer and hormonal imbalance. Moreover, pets can entice their owner to lead a more active lifestyle (5).
2. Mental Benefits
Animals are increasingly used in the treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders (6). They can even bring relaxation and symptom relief to schizophrenic and bipolar patients (7).
Pet therapy is also used in the rehabilitation of autistic, anorexic, depressed and mentally challenged children as well as kids suffering from attention deficit disorder.
Specifically, animals help children learn coping skills, self-control, empathy and social skills. Universities and school have even begun introducing pet therapy during exam time to decrease stress for both students and staff (8).
In elderly people, pets help Alzheimer’s patients improve cognitive function and emotional control. Animals also provide a calming effect and encourage elders to maintain contact with reality.
Additionally, owning a pet after the age of 60 can fend of loneliness and depression. In fact, elderly non-pet owners are 4 times more likely to suffer from depression and require medical intervention than their pet-owning counterparts (9).
3. Social Benefits
Animal therapy is known to increase self-esteem, fend of loneliness, increase communication and improve interactions with others (10).
In difficult children, pets prevent isolation and anti-social behavior by giving them a friend to trust and confine in.
Animals also create opportunities for socialization: whether its waking your dog in the neighborhood, chatting with other pet owners at the vet or pet shop, tending to your horse in a communal stable or discussing fish care on online forums.
Animals promote the feeling of compassion, which scientists at Stony Brook University have discovered actually increases your lifespan (11).
At a cellular level, a happy and compassionate lifestyle decreases inflammation, which is known to cause most major diseases, like cancer (12).
Social interaction available through human and animal interaction also promotes fewer instances of illness and positively affects longevity.
Although cats and dogs may seem like the most traditional pets, they require very specific care and can be quite costly. However, you can get similar health benefits from more low-maintenance pets like fish.
If you travel a lot or have an irregular schedule, you can interact with pets by volunteering at your local SPCA or humane society.