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What are the health benefits of having a pet?

There are many health benefits of owning a pet. The companionship of pets can help manage loneliness and depression. Pets can increase your opportunities to exercise, participate in outdoor activities, and socialize. Therefore, regular walking or playing with pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Remember, healthy pets = healthy people!

Dr. Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

People with pets seem to enjoy better overall health. Researchers know that joy and laughter trigger the release of chemicals in the brain that enhance your immune function. Pets make us smile and laugh with their amusing antics and lovable gestures. And petting something furry is a proven immune boost. A Wilkes University study found that stroking a dog for 18 minutes caused a significant increase in secretory immunoglobulin A, your body’s natural antibody against invading germs. Another study found that people with pets make fewer doctor visits, especially for non-serious medical conditions. A household pet could be just what the doctor ordered!

UCLA Health People Animal Connection (PAC) Program
Alternative & Complementary Medicine Specialist

The health benefits of having a pet include: reduced risk of allergies, asthma and eczema; lower blood pressure; a stronger heart; improved fitness; and greater calm for Alzheimer’s patients, just to name a few.

For example, simply petting an animal can cause one’s blood pressure to drop. A study was done where hypertensive stock brokers were instructed to either pet an animal or take a hypertensive drug to help quell their mental stress. Those who adopted an animal had a better reduction in blood pressure than those who took a hypertensive drug.

Additionally, research has shown that oxytocin levels increase after interactions between an owner and his or her pet. Oxytocin is one of the chemicals responsible for reducing anxiety, calming people down and strengthening the bond between mother and child.

Whether you live with a dog, a cat, or even a bird, stress reduction is one of the great benefits of an animal companion. In one study, just watching 10 minutes of cute animal films was enough to lower volunteers' heart rates and blood pressure when they were stressed. Other research has linked pet ownership with significantly lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

A study on heart attack survivors found that the survival rate within one year of the heart attack was 94 percent for pet owners and only 72 percent for non-pet-owners. It didn't matter what kind of pet the person owned, either—dog, cat, bird, or iguana. Other confounding variables, such as differing life circumstances, could not account for the difference. In an expanded and more rigorous study, the results were similar. In fact, it showed that the survival rate for dog owners after a heart attack was even better. When translated into RealAge (physiologic age) terms, the heart attack sufferers who owned dogs were as much as 3.25 years younger during their recovery period than those who did not own dogs. Other studies have found that pet owners have lower blood pressure and lower lousy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Also, pet owners seem to suffer fewer headaches, cold sores, and other chronic infections and seem to have a better overall sense of psychological well-being. It appears, too, that pet owners fare better during especially stressful times, suffering major life events less severely than those who don't own pets. Pet owners do not have as many bouts of depression, and maintain better self-esteem.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.