The Health Connection Between Pets and People

We had to put my family dog to rest last week.

He was 14 years old (well in to old age) and it was simply his time. His health was in a state that if we had prolonged his life he would have been guaranteed to suffer a painful cardiac arrest or seizure.

Throughout his life, Buddy had a few health issues we had to address, but for everything we did to help him maintain a healthy life he returned the favor ten-fold.

Buddy loved to walk and run, and if there was a day you were feeling lazy Buddy would make sure to (literally) nudge you out the door. When my father was going through an intense experimental treatment to cure his Hepatitis C, Buddy was there to provide comfort during the bouts of sickness and overwhelming fatigue.

Simply stated, Buddy exhibited every benefit that a pet could possibly provide.

If you’re someone who has a pet, you can probably identify with the ways in which your pet has enhanced your quality of life and personal health, but if you’re someone who’s never experienced the joy of pet ownership, you may want to consider adding a furry member to your family.

Here’s why:

Pets Increase Your Activity Level

Walks are often times the highlight of a dog’s day after they patiently wait around for you to come home.

When you have a responsibility to a pet that is entirely dependent on you to go out to the restroom and see the outside world, it naturally gets you to move more.

According to researchers at Michigan State University, dog owners are 34 percent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week than non-dog owners.

However, don’t cut your time short with your dog by simply walking him down the block and back. Go for a run or a longer walk with your pup so he can delight in all the smells and fresh air that can only be experienced outside.

The glee they experience when you give them a great walk and quality time outdoors is contagious, and you’re guaranteed to make it a habit, which translates to more movement and activity for both you and your dog.

If you’re more of a cat person we can’t claim that this same benefit holds as true for you, but taking the time to play with your cat is equally important.

And hey, I have a neighbor who walks her cat a few blocks everyday, so it can be done!


Pets Lower Stress and Anxiety

I think we can all agree that there are times we don’t want to be alone, but we also don’t feel like talking. For example, after a long, stressful day at work.

There’s something nice about coming home to your pets who are so happy to see you and want nothing more than to just sit and be. Their love doesn’t depend on what mood you’re in, and when they curl up to you it’s with no motive other than just to spend time.

Research has shown that engaging with an animal through petting, cuddling and playing releases the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin in the brain, which helps to ease stress and anxiety. And according to another study of 240 married couples, those that owned pets had lower heart rates and blood pressure when compared to those without pets.

So being a pet parent isn’t just about feeling good, there’s concrete evidence your health will benefit.


Pets Ease Depression and Aid in Coping

Have you ever heard of a relief dog?

Relief dogs are brought in to medical facilities and other institutions where people may be sick, bed-bound or going through intense recovery to provide comfort and interaction.

These types of activities exist because pets have been proven to ease many of the symptoms associated with recovery and healing including depression, feeling purposeful, easing pain, and decreasing feelings of loneliness.

There have been numerous studies showing everything from pets helping Alzheimer’s patients have fewer episodes of aggression to animal-assisted therapy sessions helping to reduce patients’ fear by 37 percent prior to serious medical treatment.

Although you may not be experiencing a major health issue, these benefits extend to anyone going through emotional hardship or coping.


Pets Provide Social Support

For having a companion that can’t talk, it’s surprising how much more social life gets when you become a pet owner.

People stop and talk to you when you’re walking your dog, but even if you’re not a dog owner, people love to talk about their pets and you’ll find that you will too.

Sharing common ground with people is a key component in a successful social interaction, and for people with pets that factor becomes a very easy to talk about social connector.



So whether you have kids that are begging for a pet or you’ve been drawn to the idea of rescuing a cat or dog, take this as your sign to pursue your future pet.

Obviously pet ownership comes with a good dose of responsibility, both in time and money, but if you have the means you’ll find that a pet you save will most likely end up saving you in return.

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.