Anyone who owns a pet can tell you about their animal’s ability to provide joy, lift one out of a funk, and even create a purpose in life. But they may provide even greater health benefits.
Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
- Decrease blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Reduce feelings of loneliness
- Increase opportunities for exercise and getting outdoors
- Improve opportunities for socialization
According to Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.”
The Science of Owning a Pet
- Dog owners were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity than non-dog owners.
- Owning pets may be associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and obesity.
- Pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress.
Unfortunately, as we age, owning a pet is not always a viable option. Caring for a dog takes a great deal of time and energy and many older adults simply aren’t physically able to keep up with a dog’s demands for exercise and activity. In these cases, pet therapy can provide many of the benefits of pet ownership without the responsibility. Animals are now being used as tools of therapy for individuals living with a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, autism, depression, and even Alzheimer’s.
Studies with Alzheimer’s patients have shown that interaction with animals can reduce agitation, increase positive social behavior (smiling, laughing, and talking), and improve appetites. A recent pilot program in Germany with nursing home residents living with dementia showed that participants in animal-assisted therapy sessions showed improved verbal communication and attentiveness. In a study conducted at Purdue University, even having an aquarium of fish helped nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s become more relaxed and alert and less likely to become aggressive or wander off. That’s why animals are now commonly used for therapeutic purposes in hospitals, senior living communities, and even in hospice settings.
Our connection to animals is innate. According to Dr. Ann Berger, a physician, and researcher at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, “The bond between animals and humans is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful.” So, adopt a dog, pet a cat, or get an aquarium full of fish. You’ll both benefit from the experience.