How Are Pets Good for Your Health?

Learn about the positive health powers of pets

Pets are good for your health, according to studies.

Learn about the positive health powers of pets

When people foster or adopt a dog or a cat or another pet, they usually get more than what they bargained for — in the best way. Not only do they get the feel-good benefits of helping animals in need, they are also experiencing a positive health booster for themselves.

The link between pets and health is stronger than you might think — meaning a furry friend may be the key to a happier and healthier you.

“Having a pet can be good for your health,” says Anne Liu, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Carlsbad. “Pets offer companionship, unconditional love and more.”

“Pets help reduce stress and encourage exercise through daily walks play and social interactions,” says Dr. Liu. “They can help children grow up more secure and active. They can provide valuable companionship for older adults.”

A pet doesn't necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. A rabbit, fish or bird may a better fit for you if you're allergic to cats or dogs or have limited space at home.

Benefits of having pets

Studies have shown that having a pet in the home leads to several physical and mental health benefits. These include: 

  • Reduced stress levels 
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Higher good cholesterol
  • Better heart health
  • Greater resistance to germs
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Increased opportunities for socialization

Some dog owners are volunteers who train their pets to become therapy dogs. Together they visit patients at hospitals or residents at nursing homes and provide comfort and support. Pet owners derive health benefits from helping people that way.

Pets and mental health

Research shows people managing anxiety or depression can significantly benefit from pet companionship. In some cases, the improvements can

be dramatic. 

“Normal, day-to-day activities that at one time seemed daunting to them will then seem much more manageable when they have a pet in their life,” Dr. Liu says. “Companion animals can be life changing.”

Pets require active and emotional energy that inspires engagement and involvement in life. For instance, pets encourage us to go outside and get more exercise. Studies have also shown that pets help us get to know more people and connect with others — creating friendships and social support networks.

How pets boost the immune system

Studies show that when kids are exposed to cats and dogs at a young age, they are less likely to develop allergies. The theory is that kids are exposed to whatever the dog walks on, licks, sniffs and explores at an early age and that helps build their immunity.

Pets may not be for everyone

While pets can help you feel better mentally and physically, they are not for everyone. Some people are allergic to certain animals and should not have them in their homes.

Chances are small, but you can get certain illnesses from pets. These are known as zoonotic illnesses and are caused by germs, such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.

“The key is keeping your pet healthy, making sure they get regular checkups and washing your hands after playing with, feeding or cleaning up after your pet,” Dr. Liu says.

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