7 reasons why pets are good for your health

If you’re trying to persuade a family member to get a puppy, here’s some good news: having a pet is officially good for you. Here are 7 reasons why:

1. Pets support your mental health

Regular exercise is thought to improve mental health. Furthermore, dog ownership has been shown to improve social networks, with dog owners engaging in more social contact during a walk than non-dog owners. “Our research has also shown that owning a pet dog provides important ‘me time’, particularly for those taking on a demanding caring role,” says Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln. “The act of stroking a pet, or simply being in the presence of a pet, has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Our research team has also found that pets can bring wider benefits to family life, especially when these are potentially high-stress families, such as those caring for a child with a neuro-developmental disorder.”

2. Dogs help to strengthen social networks

Forget Facebook. As anyone who’s ever said hello to someone in the street simply by virtue of having met them out walking the dog can attest, having a pet can make you more sociable. Researchers from the University of Warwick have discovered that being accompanied by a dog increased the frequency of social interactions, especially interactions with strangers. Which is very good news for anyone hoping to meet their future spouse in the park.

3. Animals can help the immune system

Stroking a dog can have a positive effect on our antibody levels, according to a study from Wilkes University in America that looked at the difference between petting a stuffed dog, petting a live dog or sitting on a couch. Only the live animal had a positive effect.

4. Pets can guard against loneliness

You don’t need us to tell you that there are few finer sights than a wagging tail greeting you as you walk in the door. Aside from the social interactions you gain as a result of having a dog, having a constant companion who depends on you for love and affection (and food) can be a great way to head off loneliness. Researchers at the University of Ottawa discovered that dog owners with high levels of human social support were significantly less lonely than non-owners with high levels of human social support. Dogs can provide emotional support and love and affection, both things cited as issues in loneliness. Professor Mills says: “The non-judgemental presence of a pet can act as an important source of support, as well as providing a constancy.”

Explore more about how loneliness affects health here.

5. The NHS could also benefit

Professor Mills says: “Our recent calculations suggest that pet ownership saves the NHS £2.45 billion a year in terms of reduced trips to the doctor.” German research found that people with a pet had fewer trips to the doctor and a study of Chinese women found that dog owners saw their doctor less and took fewer days off sick from work.

6. Pet ownership is good for the heart

Some studies show pets (particularly dogs) help motivate individuals to exercise, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity. A study reported in the Psychosomatic Medicine journal found that people with dogs and cats had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure than non-pet owners. Other research from the University at Buffalo says that having a dog in the room lowers blood pressure more effectively than taking a popular type of blood pressure medication when you are under stress.

7. Animals can keep you positive

Interaction with animals has been shown to improve symptoms in people who have dementia. Visits from dogs, cats and rabbits encourage mobility, increase self-esteem, lessen loneliness and reduce depression and stress in older people. Interacting with animals can help reduce the social withdrawal often experienced by people with Alzheimer’s and, as touch is one of the last senses to be affected, stroking an animal can have a calming and uplifting effect.