Health Benefits of Owning Pets

Owning a dog or cat—or a small menagerie for that matter—has become the norm for many American households. In fact, 62 percent of U.S. homes included at least one pet in 2012, according to The Humane Society of the United States. This tally consisted of more than 83 million dogs and 95 million cats!

The majority of us who own furry critters will tell you it's for the fun of it—the companionship and the playing—despite the occasional mess, headache or vet bill. Few of us stop to consider all the health benefits that dogs, cats and other household pets can provide us.

Thinking about pet ownership? Here are a handful of healthy advantages that can come from keeping company with a dog or cat (or that small menagerie we mentioned).

Pets help buffer depression and loneliness.
Pet owners who are blue can reap big rewards from the unconditional love of a dog or cat. Their mere presence can calm an anxious or depressed person, while the basic responsibilities of pet ownership provide a sense of purpose that's often enough to keep people going. (No one wants to let Fido down.) Brushing or stroking a pet also soothes, which explains why well-behaved dogs and cats are often used for pet therapy in hospitals and nursing homes.

They encourage social interaction.
It's been used ad nauseam in rom-coms, but that's only because it works! Take a dog on a walk and you're bound to get into a conversation with another person. A cute pup is too hard to pass by without comment. For those who are shy or have minimal interaction with others, a playful, social dog is a great tool for getting out of your comfort zone. Attention typically stays on your furry friend, and the conversation is generally light and easy.

Kids raised in a home with pets are less likely to get sick.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact explanation, but studies show that children in a home with at least one dog or cat are less likely to get sick than those who live in pet-free homes. Is it because they become more immune with more exposure? Perhaps. There's also a reduced risk of allergy issues for kids raised with a cat. (That's not the case if the mother has cat allergies, in which case it's three times more likely to be passed down. There's no getting around that.) Top it off with studies that suggest children who grow up in homes with dogs have a lesser likelihood of developing asthma. Makes a parent want to get a pet ASAP, huh?

Pet owners tend to be physically healthier.
To put it bluntly, pets get us moving. This directly affects our cardiovascular health, helping to keep our weight down while also lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This reduces our risk of heart attacks. Whew. Interactions with pets also makes us less stressed by decreasing the hormone cortisol and releasing serotonin, the brain's natural antidepressant.

Pets can help with serious issues too.
Dogs in particular can be trained to provide specialized help for pet owners dealing with a variety of issues, ranging from ADHD and rheumatoid arthritis to epilepsy and diabetes, among others.

By Tara Hall

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About the Author
Tara Hall is an animal-loving writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. Her portfolio runs the gamut from small business marketing content to travel writing, fashion editorial and national music coverage.