From lower levels of stress to reduced risk of heart disease, having an animal can be very beneficial.
A recent study found pet ownership could help save the health service up to £2.45bn a year, simply by reducing the number of times people visit their doctor. The calculation’s based on the influence that owning a pet has on mental and physical health, plus lower rates of illnesses and better wellbeing among pet-owners .
Here are six reasons why pets can be good for your health.
1. Unconditional love
However bad your day’s been, you’ll have someone who depends on you to shower you with affection. The British Medical Journal says the emotional bond between owner and pet can be as intense as many human relationships, and may confer similar psychological benefits. “Taking care of and spending time with a pet is a great way to give yourself some headspace to deal with life’s setbacks and challenges,” says Eugene Farrell, a mental health expert at AXA PPP healthcare.
The responsibilities that come with owning a pet can give your day purpose, reward and a sense of achievement. Regular routines and rituals can help energy management and support mental space. The Dogs Trust also highlights that a good routine is vital for your dog’s wellbeing too.
3. Lower risk of heart disease
Owning a pet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It may be that dog owners naturally do more exercise, but pets also play a role in providing social support, encouraging you to stick with a new habit or adopting a healthy behaviour.
Owning a cat has also been associated with a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and stroke, possibly due to the stress-relieving effects of animal companionship.
“Walking your dog – or even borrowing one from a neighbour or rescue centre – can do wonders for your wellbeing, as it combines moderate exercise with taking a break from work or household chores and getting some fresh air,” says Farrell.
Pets can act as a social icebreaker between strangers, or as a catalyst for social interaction. Research suggests dog-walkers experience significantly higher social capital (interactions and relationships) than non-dog-walkers, meaning they’re less likely to be lonely.
And as new US research has found, loneliness may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, socialising clearly benefits health. Indeed, an analysis of 148 studies representing more than 300,000 participants found greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.
“Pets provide their owners with companionship in their own right but they can also act as social catalysts by providing opportunities for social interactions,” says Yeates.
5. Boost to mental wellbeing
Studies have found that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. Pets can also reduce stress and anxiety levels, while playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, which help you feel calm and relaxed.
6. Improving child health
Younger members of the family will also flourish with the presence of a four-legged friend. Yeates explains that children brought up with pets tend to have more stable immune systems, and growing up with pets has also been found to improve children’s social skills.
“Pet ownership – done well – also encourages childhood responsibility as the presence of an animal encourages children to develop compassion, understanding and respect for living things,” Yeates says.