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The power of pets: Your companion may be good for your health

If you’re a pet owner, you’re likely familiar with the joy that comes from owning and caring for that animal. However, the benefits of having a pet go beyond companionship.

If you needed another reason to love your pet, they may provide health-boosting benefits.

Pets may be good for your heart

Owning pets, specifically dogs, may decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. While there’s not a guaranteed relationship between the two, pet ownership may be one cause of a lowered risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association suggests that owning a pet can help lower unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A pet may even help you survive a heart attack, should you experience one. This may be due to the fact that people who have pets are often more active. Studies have shown pet owners who walk their dogs can get up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-dog-walkers. Physical activity also can lower blood pressure levels, helping lower risk for cardiovascular death.

Some studies show that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity, or changes to the cardiovascular system, during times of stress. The calming effects dogs can have on humans has been shown to prevent a rise in heart rate and blood pressure during times of stress, lessening the effects of stress on the heart and body.

Image of pets
If you needed another reason to love your pet, they may provide health-boosting benefits.

A boost in mental health

When we see, touch, hear or talk to our animal companions, the feelings of joy and nurturing so many of us are familiar with may suppress stress hormones, leading to a healthier life.

Lisa Dorn, professional counselor with Marshfield Clinic Health System, recognizes the many benefits pets have been shown to provide on mental and emotional health.

“Some of these benefits include reducing loneliness, providing comfort and safety, increased socialization, mood boosts, a sense of purpose and meaning, increased physical activity and unconditional love,” she said. “An increase in physical activity is closely associated with improved mental health outcomes.”

For those with anxiety, pets may decrease stress.

“There are a few ways you can help your mind relax,” she said. “Take a walk with your dog, attend training classes together or engage in play with your pet. Even just petting helps. Scientists at Washington State University discovered that just 10 minutes of petting a dog shows a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”

Pets, and their unconditional love, can help provide certain mental health benefits for humans when other forms of therapy and other outlets may not be a solution.

“Pets can sense mood and provide comfort and provide a safe place to express emotions, without fear of judgment,” she said. “They can also provide motivation. I have had patients tell me that if it wasn’t for their dog needing to be fed or go outside, I wouldn’t get out of bed

Lessening of depression

Those living with depression can reap mood-lifting benefits from our companions.

“The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes animal-assisted therapy for depression because pets can have a positive effect on depression and other mood disorders,” Dorn said.

Dogs are often thought of as the best animals for pet therapy, but the connection between the animal and person is more important than the type of animal. If you feel connected with a cat, bird or any animal, it will be a valuable relationship for your mental health.

Pets can help their owners feel less isolated from society, give them something to focus their energy on and can help their owners to remain active and engaged.

Children may benefit, too

Owning a pet is a big responsibility, for adults and children. Having that extra responsibility may have positive effects on children as they develop.

One study found that the mere presence of a family pet during childhood can increase emotional expression and control in children,” Dorn said. “An attachment to pets also can promote healthy social development, social competence, increased social interaction, improved social communication and social play in children.”

Some research also suggests that successfully caring for a pet positively correlates to importance, social competence and self-esteem.

For more about health benefits, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

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4 responses to “The power of pets: Your companion may be good for your health”

  1. Darlene L.

    I am 81 years old with two knee replacements. Today my husband and I and our Libby walked an hour and a quarter on a snow covered forest trail at a state park near us. We do this somewhere every day, year 'round. A few days ago it was a full two hours. Without a dog it is very unlikely that we would be out there or that we would still be able to even do such outings. When I can't have a dog anymore, which I hope will be some years in the future, I might as well pack it in. Libby is our trainer, our motivation, and our joy.

    1. Jordan Simonson

      Hi Darlene, Thank you for sharing that inspiring story. -Jordan

  2. Jean Doty

    I agree whole-heartedly with your article. I adopted two cats in 2009 after I had to take my one dear kitty to the vet for her last visit due to kidney failure. Being isolated during Covid, I taught them simple commands like "eat" "T-time" (afternoon treat time), "go" and "come on". Between the cats being with me during Covid and moving from Marshfield to Eau Claire, I was never bored!!! The cats entertain me when I play with them. One keeps my feet warm at night. The other one is pretty vocal at times, so we have some good "talks" throughout the day. THEY MAKE ME LAUGH!

    1. Jacob Zipperer

      Hi Jean,

      Thanks for sharing and we're so glad to hear that you liked our article. Hope you have a great rest of your day!

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