Have you been warding off the winter chills by snuggling up to a four-legged friend? If so, you’re reaping more benefits than just keeping warm. Having pets, it turns out, is great for your long-term health.
Several studies have demonstrated how pet ownership can lower blood pressure, decrease the levels of “stressful” hormones in your blood, and may even prevent cardiovascular disease. This all makes sense when you reflect on how closely emotional and physical health are connected.
For people who live alone—either by choice or circumstance—owning a pet can help ward off feelings of loneliness. Pets not only provide affection and acceptance, but they help owners feel responsible and encourage them to focus outside of themselves. Pets also encourage responsibility in children and, according to some studies, exposure to pets early in life is associated with stronger immune systems.
Here are some of the most popular pets and the specific wellness benefits they offer.
Dogs keep you active and connected
Dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance for their owners, which can be a major boost for emotional health, especially after a rough day. Owning a dog can also encourage you to exercise regularly—most dogs are more than willing to take a daily walk or two. If you’re having problems with establishing consistent sleep patterns, a dog will encourage you to get up at the same time every day and can help get you into a routine.
Also, if you’re looking to connect with more people in the community, a friendly dog can be a big help. Not only will Max get you to walk around your neighborhood, he’s a natural conversation starter. And dog parks are great places to meet and interact with people who share a common interest.
Cats are good for your heart
When it comes to stress relief, cats are pros. Studies have correlated cat ownership with a significant reduction in heart disease and stroke. According to a ten-year study, cat owners are 30 to 40% less likely to die of a heart attack. Oddly enough, some people claim that the frequency of a cat’s purr may also have specific health benefits. We’re not 100% sure about that one, but we will say a cat’s purr is definitely a calming sound for any cat lover!
Cats don’t require the daily schedule of walks and potty time that dogs do, which can make them easier pets to care for. This lower maintenance, combined with the fact that cats typically require less living space than dogs, makes them especially well-suited for apartment dwellers, seniors, or people whose busy lifestyles make dog ownership hard to swing.
Fish calm your nerves
While most fish don’t offer the emotional companionship that dogs or cats do, aquariums are well-known for reducing stress and anxiety. The calming benefits of “Aquarium Therapy” is why fish tanks are so commonly placed in dentists’ offices and other locations where people tend to feel nervous.
Fish—particularly freshwater fish—aren’t demanding pets, but be aware that aquariums do take some work to maintain. Be sure to do your research when setting up your aquarium (especially when it comes to balancing the nitrogen levels).
A smoothly running aquarium is not only beautiful, but it can be a big step in create a calming environment in your home.
Other pets offer benefits, too
Dogs, cats and fish are the most popular pets in the U.S., and the ones that are usually the focus of wellness studies. But other animal companions—birds, reptiles, and small animals such as rabbits and hamsters—also offer emotional benefits. Horses, while not a household pet, are especially noted for their therapeutic qualities.
While a lizard may not be as affectionate as, say, a Golden Retriever, these less-common pets can still be calming (and often entertaining) for their humans. And often just the act of caring for and nurturing an animal has positive emotional benefits for children and adults alike.
Finding the right pet for you
If you’re thinking about bringing a new animal into your life, remember that the key to success is finding a pet that fits your resources, family situation, and lifestyle. Doing your research beforehand can save you a lot of stress and trouble down the road (for example, you’ll want to know that a Jack Russell or a Siamese cat is better suited to an active household, while a quieter breed like a Greyhound or Persian is good for more laid-back people.) And of course, check your local shelter or adoption agency first!
And for those of you who already have pets, we hope you appreciate them even more. They’re just one more factor contributing to your lifelong health and wellness!