Pet ownership is more than just an indulgence for animal lovers. Our furry (or feathery, or scaly) friends can actually bring great health benefits. While dogs tend to have the greatest positive impact on our health and wellbeing, the effects extend all the way down to small pets like hamsters and even unusual pets like snakes and spiders.
So, if you’re trying to persuade someone that a puppy is a necessary addition to your family, or need to learn to love your partner’s pet tarantula, here are the top five health benefits of pets:
They’re amazing for mental health
Studies show that pet owners (especially dog owners) have, on average, far fewer mental health issues than those without pets. There are several possible reasons for this. One is that animals give companionship and unconditional love, which reduce loneliness and increase feelings of self-worth. They also make us laugh, give us an outlet for our nurturing and affectionate impulses, lift our moods, and give us a reason to get up in the morning.
They keep you active
Again, dogs come out top in this respect. Dogs need walking, and walking is great exercise. However, even animals which don’t need you to exercise them can encourage activity. People enjoy playing with their pets, and this play gets them up off the sofa and doing something active without even realising it. Every little helps!
They lower blood pressure
The exercise thing mentioned above probably has a lot to do with the reduced blood pressure found in pet owners. But there may be more to it than that. Studies with therapy animals have found that people’s blood pressure lowers and their stress levels smooth out when they pet a friendly animal. With cardiovascular disease being one of the country’s biggest killers, this kind of therapeutic effect is really important.
They boost immunity
Some people avoid getting pets because they think of animals as ‘dirty’ and unhealthy. In fact, the opposite is true. Children who grow up in households with pets tend to have fewer allergies and stronger immune systems than children from pet-free households. The theory runs that pet animals ‘vaccinate’ children against common environmental allergens and strengthen their immune systems by bringing in minute amounts of dust, pollen and so on in on their coats and paws. This gives the immune system a good, strengthening workout without actually making the children sick. Pets essentially provide natural immunotherapy.
They encourage health responsibility
Having pets makes us more responsible in general, and that extends to our health as much as to anything else. A study with diabetics found that those with pets were more likely to monitor and control their blood sugar levels than those without pets. The fact that our pets rely entirely upon us makes us take care of ourselves, so that we can take care of them.