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5 Ways Pets Improve Health

NVA Community

By Turpin Mott, Chief Community Officer

Imagine if you could increase your wellness by adding just one thing to your home. Would you do it?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost 60 percent of Americans have already added this beneficial item to their homes by welcoming a pet into their lives.

And here's even better news: According to an article in Psychology Today, researchers found no evidence that the type of pet mattered.

In fact, it appears that the “power of pets" is more about what lies in an owner’s mind than what lies at their feet (or at the end of a leash or in an aquarium). So lovers of dogs, cats, horses, lizards, fish, rabbits and even goats can be confident that their lives are better thanks to their beloved "friends."

In my role as wellness coach and consultant, I constantly seek out new information about whole body/mind wellness, so the Psychology Today article intrigued me. I also wanted to share the research findings with our NVA community — not only so you can convey this information to your clients, but also as a reminder that your animal companions can improve your well-being, too.

There is an abundance of proof out there that pets improve your health in many ways. Here are my five favorite benefits of having a pet.

1. Increased happiness and lower anxiety

Multiple studies have shown that pets increase the levels of two chemicals in our brains: oxytocin (the "love hormone") and serotonin (the "happiness chemical"). What’s more, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cited three different studies that found that pets can serve as important sources of social support. Pet owners:

  • Had higher self-esteem

  • Were more physically fit

  • Felt less lonely

  • Were more conscientious

  • Were more socially outgoing

  • Had healthier relationship styles

2. Improved socialization and romantic relationships

Research published in Anthrozoös, the journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology, found that people with pets reported having stronger romantic relationships than those without pets. Results suggested that more than 85 percent of one study’s participants saw pets as having predominantly positive effects on their romantic relationships. The researchers also found some interesting results in another study, which suggested that pet ownership correlated with several benefits, including greater overall relationship quality.

3. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels

A pet may improve your heart health. Numerous studies have looked at the link between pet ownership and cardiovascular health, and several of them suggest that owning a pet is associated with a reduction in risk factors for heart disease. What’s more, survival rates for people with heart disease are better for those who own pets than those who don’t. In an analysis of the research, the American Heart Association states that this link seems to be strongest when looking at dog ownership and a reduced risk of heart disease — possibly because of the physical activity that comes with walking a dog.

4. Improved immunity and allergy prevention

Here's the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: Exposure to pets in early life can reduce the incidence of atopic disorders (which commonly affect the nose, eyes, skin and lungs, and include conjunctivitis, eczema, asthma and allergic reactions to venomous stings). In fact, being exposed to a dog during infancy may even reduce allergies in children.

5. Childhood emotional development

You may have seen news stories about hospitals, care centers and retreats featuring therapy dogs, horses — even lizards — to help calm and soothe patients and others coping with trauma. Having a pet also benefits people such as children with ADHD, who can learn a lot about responsibility and empathy. For children with autism, the sensory experience of petting an animal can be soothing; being around animals also can help improve their social behavior.

Pass it on!

Our veterinary community knows about the benefits pets provide, as do many pet lovers. But I believe it's important for us to remind each other about those benefits every so often. I also encourage you to talk about these benefits with your friends and family members.

Isn’t it amazing what a furry (or scaled or feathered) friend can do for our well-being?

To see some ways that animals and humans are coping with tough times together, take a look at 8 Reasons to Smile: Good News in Hard Times. Or check out some of our other wellness resources, such as how to accentuate the positive or how to find peace in your physical body by using your breath. You can also follow NVA on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Turpin Mott is NVA’s chief community officer, focusing on wellness, organizational culture, leadership development and team performance. He is a skilled facilitator, trainer and executive coach. Turpin is also a combat veteran, having served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.