What are the Health Benefits of Owning a Pet? Many!

This excellent article is taken from WebMD where the original can be found.

I can speak as a pet owner when I report that owning pets is one of the most rewarding things a person can do for themselves, their families, and their children. Our family raised chickens, ducks, tropical fish, dogs, cats, and gerbils. To this day, my daughters, their husbands, and my grandchild own cats, dogs, and tropical fish and are advocates for the rights and protection of both wild animals and those that are domesticated.

Research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits. They lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and boost immunity. They may encourage socialization.

Meeting New Friends

Dogs are great for making friends. For example, a dog is a natural conversation starter. This especially helps ease people out of social isolation or shyness. 

Dogs for the Aged

“Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home,” says Lynette Hart, Ph.D. associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet, particularly if it is a cat, which generally requires less care than a dog,” says Hart.

Walking a dog or just caring for a pet — for elderly people who are able — can provide exercise and companionship. 

Good for Mind and Soul

Pet owners with AIDS are far less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, Ph.D.

In one study, stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than people without pets.

People in stress mode get into a “state of dis-ease,” in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system, says Blair Justice, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of the Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.

Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice.

Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, nerve transmitters that have pleasurable and calming properties, he tells WebMD.

“People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.

Good for the Heart

According to several studies, heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without. Researchers say that male pet owners have fewer signs of heart disease — lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners.

Contact Dr. Schwartz at

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