Having A Pet Makes You Healthier AND Is
A Lot More Fun Than Going To The Gym.
Author’s Note: I have come back to the beginning after finishing writing this. I think pet ownership is one of life’s greatest gifts. A lot of research went into this article and most of it blew my mind. The benefits of owning a pet are significantly stronger than I even knew and increasingly more evident as modern medicine continues to evolve.
What is to follow is utterly amazing. Before I wrote this, I thought having a dog was a good idea. Now I think it is one of the best decisions you can make for both your physical and mental health. I often felt emotion when putting this together because I have personally seen and felt the positive effects of owning pets. I will never, ever stop being grateful for the contributions and joy they have brought to my life.
I hope you enjoy this.
If you are trying to convince your significant other or your parents that a pet is a good idea, you’ve just hit the jackpot.
What you are reading is not simply my own personal missives on how great it is to be a dog owner. I’m going to share with you scientific facts from organizations like the Center for Disease Control, Harvard University, the Mayo Clinic and the National Institute of Health.
This is important: You should not get a pet because decided this morning that you want one or you saw animal that was adorable. You need to find the right pet for you based on research and time spent thinking on it. You need to look at important aspects of your life (financial, time, etc) and be certain you are well equipped to take fantastic care of an animal.
Let’s start at (almost) the very beginning.
12,000years ago, a human was buried. Certainly, lots of humans were buried during that time period, just as they are today. There is some significance to this particular human, though. Lying beside this human was an animal that scientists later identified as a wolf pup, aged about 6 months. The human’s hand was positioned to rest lightly on the pup’s body. There are countless viewpoints on the reasons why the human and the pup were buried together. But a scientific principle called Occam’s Razor which basically says that when the answer seems obvious, go with the obvious answer. And in this case, the simplest explanation points to a bond that existed between that person and that pup – one that could not be broken even through death.
Sometimes you don’t need
the back story to see
that something is a bad idea.
It is important to find the right pet for you.
I guarantee it’s not a tiger.
Endless studies have now been performed to highlight the many different ways that human life can be improved through making the choice to share your life with a pet. Fewer studies have been conducted about all the ways that adding a pet into your life can backfire, however.
Since this is the Internet, I am going to go and clarify: we are not talking about a tiger or chimpanzee… I’m talking about a goldfish or a degu. That’s a free one for those of you that think a tiger could possibly make a good pet.
Don’t talk yourself into or out of it.
Take a rational look at the benefits owning a pet can bring to your life.
Think You’re Too Old To Get a Pet?
Pets help the elderly feel less socially isolated, lonely and depressed and more satisfied with their lives. Elderly persons with pets are four times less likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression.
Struggle With Anxiety or PTSD?
Pets support people who have anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (veterans and others) to feel less stress, stay calm and find the emotional support they need to lead their daily lives. Playing with a pet raises a person’s serotonin and dopamine levels, both hormones that promote a sense of greater calm and relaxation.
Relationship Issues? Family Problems?
Caring for a pet improves the ability to successfully navigate social relationships at home and at work. Interacting with a pet also helps develop leadership and empathy skills.
There’s no reason to have an
“empty nest” with all of the benefits
having a dog can bring to your life!
It’s not just good for you.
Having a pet is good for your friends,
your kids and even your boss.
It’s not just good for you, having a pet is good for those around you, too.
Think for a moment and ponder this question: When was the last time you can recall meeting a real Grinch, someone who seemed hell-bent on sharing their bad mood, bad luck or bad life with everyone they met?
Social disconnection can do this to us. As of 2004, 25 percent of Americans stated they had no one – not one other person – they could confide in. This is 1 in every 4 people you see on the street (or online) every day!
This research highlights that those of us who feel socially disconnected are also much more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and depression as well as expressions of antisocial behavior, suicidal thinking and other unwelcome side effects that can readily rub off on those around us.
Tellingly, these are all issues we now know that a strong ongoing person-pet connection can help with.
According to the still-emerging science of social connectivity, “Connected” co-authors Christakis and Fowler show that not only the folks in our innermost network, but also the folks our innermost circle includes in their innermost circles, can have a powerful impact on our quality of life.
In the same way, we can have a powerful impact on the lives of those we are closest to, with a lesser but still measurable impact on others as our level of connection decreases with those on the periphery of our lives.
This makes it easy to understand how some of us may struggle more to achieve our dearest life goals.
Want to lose weight? Look at the 5 people closest to you. If they are all couch potatoes with fast food diets, there is a reason you are probably struggling to change your own habits for the better.
Dog owners in particular tend to be in better health and physical shape than their non-dog-owning peers, and pet owners in general tend to self-report as being happier and more connected socially than their non-pet-owning peers.
Because of how this works, the positives that bringing a pet into your life will have creates an exponential ripple effect to people you don’t even know.
Pet-friendly workplaces reap the benefits.
It generally costs the average employer very little – perhaps a commercial liability policy tweak here or there – to launch a “pets in the workplace” program.
The benefits of a pet friendly office far outweigh the costs to implement a program.
These 3 benefits alone can be worth the effort:
- Productivity Soars: Workers who brought their pets to the office reported up to 50 percent improvement in personal productivity. Employers reported lower absenteeism.
- Less Stress: Participating employees self-reported lower stress levels at work when their pets accompanied them (tellingly, the most stressed employees were those who had a pet but did not participate in the workplace pet program).
- Better Connections With Co-workers: Pet-toting employees stated their pets facilitated faster and better relationships with workplace peers.
The increase in productivity,
and improvement in atmosphere
from dogs in the workplace is well-documented.
When you are happier, calmer, more confident and compassionate and more connected with ourselves and with the world around us, it changes your entire life.
At the end of the day, the positives having a pet brings to your health, demeanor and productivity simply makes your life better. The point here, though, is that like our mothers always told us, “the world doesn’t revolve around you.” Part of what I would consider a “better” life is having a positive impact on the lives of others.
Am I saying that every single person who gets a pet will have a good experience and see positive growth in their life? No. There is a lot of data in this article. Various links lead to various studies that have been completed by scientists, sociologists, etc. This is just my personal opinion: the proven positive effect of having a dog is so great that it is worth the risk of having a negative experience.
That’s just me. For some people, the heartbreak that can come from losing a pet is simply not something they should introduce the risk of to their life. For others, maybe they just don’t like animals. If you simply don’t like animals, getting one is probably not going to be a positive experience.
But for the rest of us, if we put in the effort to find the right pet for our own situations at the right time in our lives and are prepared to take excellent care of it, getting a pet can be one of the best decisions we ever make.
Having a pet is a fantastic way
to meet awesome new people and build friendships.
Remember earlier when I mentioned looking at the five people closest to you and how we are basically a combination of them? With all this evidence of how pets improve our lives, surrounding yourself with others who also love pets is a good idea.
Being in a setting with like-minded individuals is a great way to meet new friends. I used to know everybody at our dog park here in Anchorage. If you start going to the dog park at the same time each day after work, you will start to see the same people. If you’re at all like me, chances are you will know their dogs name before you know their name.
When you see people every day, it is often inevitable that the conversation will turn to mutual interests. At some point you end up meeting someone you met at the dog park to watch a sporting event or go to a training class together. It is simply how friendships begin to develop.
Because pets are fundamentally honest, present and transparent, they can serve as mirrors to show us things both about ourselves and about potential significant others we might otherwise miss. In a recent study at Kyoto University in Japan, researchers discovered that dogs can be excellent judges of character.
There are many anecdotes of a similar nature, where singles get a wake-up call about a prospective date’s true nature when their normally docile and friendly animal growls or bites at the suitor. When this occurs, your dog is usually telling you in no uncertain terms to steer clear.
According to a recent Purina survey, 54 percent of respondents stated their pet facilitated the first chat with their now-partner.
You aren’t meeting Mr. Right at the bar
because he is hanging out at the dog park.
6 out of 10 those survey respondents also shared that they felt dog owners were more attractive than non-dog owners. You can stop spending money on close and hair products and get a furry little friend.
If you’re into online dating, a full 33 percent of singles stated they would want to chat or meet up with a potential mate who included their pet in their dating profile pic. An equal number of single men stated they felt like getting a pet improved their odds of getting a date come Valentine’s Day.
Moral of the story: she doesn’t want to see a picture of your FJ cruiser, gentleman. Get a Boston Terrier and name him Angus. Works every time.
Obviously We Think You Should Get a Pet,
We Are A Website About Animals, After All.
But it’s not just us.
Harvard University and the Center for Disease Control
both say the same thing.
According to Harvard researchers, bringing a pet dog into your life is so heart-healthy they have even published a book about it called “Get Healthy, Get a Dog.” Harvard is, of course, a pretty reputable organization. They don’t really mince words when it comes to the benefits of pet ownership.
You may have gathered by this point that I am a dog guy. I love that Harvard published that “pet ownership, especially having a dog” while no clear cause-and-effect relationship can really be proven is an important consideration when it comes to “an overall strategy to lower the risk of heart disease.”
Usually when I hear about ways to lower their the risk of heart disease, it involves things that I’m not super keen on. My doctor says to eat less red meat. You should exercise for 30 minutes a day. Avoid caffeine! You should eat less salt. So many things that don’t sound like fun at all.
Again, I am not suggesting you should get a dog because you are establishing a plan to lower the risk of heart disease. You should get a dog because you thought through it, researched it and are sure you’re ready.
But seriously, I can either not drink that Dr Pepper or have my dog Blue as a good step towards lowering the risk of heart disease? No, I don’t need time to think about it…
The Center for Disease Control goes a step further and offers that some health benefits of pet ownership are lower blood pressure and less loneliness. Most of us don’t even think about the fact that there are negative health effects from loneliness.
I’m a pretty social guy, so one of the major downsides of getting sick with the flu or a bad cold is the isolation. I feed off of the energy from the close relationships I have with friends. I love talking about how my dogs make this isolation thousands of times or tolerable.
When I first moved to Alaska, I didn’t know anyone. I missed my friends in Chicago and not having a social circle already made me feel lonely. On my third week living here, I got diagnosed with H1N1, commonly known as the swine flu. I spent 10 days in a place I knew no one completely isolated from the rest of the world. Thank God for my dogs. If you’ve ever been in a situation like that, you know what I mean.
There is so much we
can learn from our dogs.
If Harvard University and the Center for Disease Control don’t have you sold, Oprah probably isn’t gonna get you there. But she loves to talk about the weight reduction benefits of owning a pet. Her medical sidekick, Dr. Oz, often talks about the endless benefits of having a pet in your home.
Dr. Oz makes the case that having a pet reduces the risk of allergies and Asthma and Eczema, lowers your blood pressure, provides greater calm to Alzheimer’s patients and increases your general fitness level.
I constantly see headlines about “this simple secret will lengthen your life.”
Here’s the worst kept secret in the world.
I don’t really get into the cat thing,
but millions and millions of others do.
The Internet has sort of gotten perpetually more annoying with just general “noise.” So many groups try to tell you that you should use “These 15 Secret Tips” or “This Mom Found The Fountain Of Youth!” People will always try to find another way to happiness and health. This one is no secret.
There is a reason millions and millions of people own pets.
In the United States alone, there is an estimated:
- 70 to 80 million dogs (35 percent of households).
- 74 to 96 million cats (30 percent of households).
- 57 million fish (in 7.7 percent of households).
- 2.3 million turtles (in 1.3 percent of households).
- 4.5 million birds (in 3.9 percent of households).
These numbers don’t even include the millions of species of non-human companions, from degus to bearded dragons, horses to hamsters, happily cohabitating with their human guardians today.
Pets have the ability to improve our lives and our health in so many remarkable ways. I don’t like to speak in definites, but thanks to copious scientific and medical research on the topic, I am comfortable calling this a fact.
The results from surveys of actual pet owners speak volumes.
It isn’t just large organizations with lots of funding doing massive research projects and spitting out data. Sometimes what really matters is how you “feel.” I am not always the best of talking about feelings, but I do think it is important to consider that how something makes you “feel” does indeed matter.
Perhaps the greatest collective voice can be found within the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR), which registered 11,000+ emotional support animals (or E.S.A.s) in 2013 alone.
Universities are also becoming much more pet-friendly. Notably, at Virginia Commonwealth’s pre-final exams “Paws for Stress” event, more than 1,000 panicked students flocked to a gathering featuring pet-able therapy dogs.
In a survey of 150 pet owners, 120 told the Mayo Clinic that having their pet on or near their bed aided in relaxation and/or sleep.
Point is, normal everyday people just like you and I see the actual benefits of pet ownership in their lives.
What Should You Actually
Expect If You Get A New Pet?
In the various studies and reports cited above, I’ve tried to give good examples of the physical benefits, mental and emotional benefits and the relational benefits (less social anxiety, more and better social interactions).
You had probably noticed before you even read this that the medical field today is increasingly moving towards creating a whole-person picture of “health” that recognizes the inextricable interconnectedness of body with mind with heart with spirit, so I thought it was important that we take a look at all those aspects.
I also think it’s important to talk about setting the expectation for the health benefits you should expect to notice given what we’ve talked about.
Some things like weight loss take time, but it is important that you track your progress. Choose an accurate bathroom scale and keep a log. Don’t be discouraged as you track your weight; fluctuation is normal.
Other things like improved overall heart health may not really be able to be quantified. I do think, however, that most people will experience an actual and noticeable drop in their stress level.
And this one here, with all of the various health benefits already covered, is probably the most important.
When you bring a new pet home, you begin to lower the levels of what many medical professionals call Public Health Enemy #1: Cortisol.
Cortisol is seriously scary stuff and a lot of us don’t even know about it.
With elevated cortisol levels, there is greater risk for the onset of mental illness (schizophrenia, panic attacks), physical illness (heart attacks, high blood pressure), social isolation (aggression, withdrawal) and emotional imbalance (fear, anger).
It is so important to your health to keep cortisol levels low that some service dogs are even trained to scent-detect elevated cortisol levels.
Two common treatments doctors offer to help naturally lower cortisol levels are mindfulness meditation and group therapy. Pets provide both. When the average pet parent observes or interacts with the average pet, a very natural and organic meditation/therapy quickly ensues.
Sitting with your cat, mulling over how soft her fur is or how fascinating it is to watch her eyes dart around the room has essentially the same effects on you as meditation. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars per month for a yoga membership or buy an app on your iPhone. It is as simple as spending time with your pet.
While the pet parent is meditating on their pet’s cuteness and wonderfulness and intelligence and loving-kindness, their body is increasingly pumping out therapeutic oxytocin – the same hormone new moms produce that bonds them to their infants.
This is me and Blue.
He is one of the greatest joys in my life.
You should be even more grateful for your pet than you likely realize.
The truth is, pets affect each of us differently. For some, having a pet may be a medical miracle. An actual lifesaver – especially for those suffering from serious conditions like epilepsy, asthma and diabetes.
For others, having a pet may be an emotional panacea, a ticket to less-deep sadness, faster rage-recovery, less fearfulness and an improved ability to productively grieve.
A pet may offer a lifeline up out of the depths of depression, down from the rooftops of anxiety and far away from the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is very obvious that across-the-board for any medical condition, there is a significant chance that even if having a pet does not improve the actual condition itself, it will have a serious improvement on the quality of life a person experiences.
There are endless reasons why getting a pet is a good idea.
I could go on and on, but you should probably stop
reading and go get a dog. Turns out it is good for your health.
Pets are not a miracle cure. Owning a box turtle isn’t going to cure cancer. It’s not going to stop diabetes or cure cystic fibrosis.
From where I sit, what matters is the tangible, noticeable positive effects that pet ownership is scientifically proven to have on someone’s quality-of-life. Whatever your ailment is, there are no longer any questions and it’s not up for debate – having a pet simply makes your symptoms more tolerable, your recoveries faster and your days better.
God, I love my dogs.
Also, thanks to Shannon Cutts for all of her help researching this topic and putting this together.