If you’ve ever bonded with a pet, it’s probably not a shock that researchers are finding evidence that animals make a positive impact on our lives. The coolthing is “how”; you might be surprised at the not-so-obvious ways our fur babies improve our physical, mental, and social health.
As if we need more reasons to cuddle with our furry friends, scientists suggest that having a dog may increase human wellness and longevity.
One study published inJAMA Pediatrics found that exposure to dogs and farm animals during the first year of a child’s life decreased their risk of developing asthma as well as some allergies by age six. Though it’s not entirely known how this works, scientists think that it may be because kids with animals are exposed to an increased variety of allergens and microbes, enhancing the overall effectiveness of their immune system.
Additionally, scientists in onestudy - the largest study of its kind to date - looked at data from over 3.4 million people over a 12-year period and found dog ownership to be linked with both a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and a decrease in overall mortality from all causes. Interestingly, the increased physical benefit was observed with pet owners of larger breed dogs, most likely because they required more exercise and acted as a motivator to get out outside and play.
Scientists note that in addition to pet owners being more active, physical benefits may also result from a decrease in psychosocial stressors, like depression and loneliness, that can negatively affect how your body functions.
There are reasons why we refer to dogs as man’s best friend. Studies show that a pup’s companionship may offer profound psychological benefits especially in times of stress and social isolation. Owning a pet has even been shown to increase the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system - the portion of your nervous system that lowers your heart rate and promotes relaxation. Considering a significant portion of the population struggles with feelings of social isolation and disconnectedness, it’s encouraging that something as simple as owning a pet can help mitigate these feelings.
In addition to providing unconditional love and support, owning a pet also increases the chances that you’ll engage with people in your community and form meaningful friendships. According to research, roughly 40% of pet owners reported receiving social support from people they met through their pets.
Pets also teach you a lot about life. We recently lost a pet to bone cancer, and even though it was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life thus far, it was also one of the most beautiful. While he was alive, he found joy in everything, was kind and loving to everyone, and he lived only in the present. His passing forced me to confront the ephemerality of life and encouraged me to be a little bit more mindful and grateful. Someone once said that it takes an extraordinary person to care for pets because more likely than not, they will pass away before you.
Owning a pet may be one of the simplest things you can do to increase your quality of life (not to mention one of the most fun and rewarding!). On a personal level, I feel that my dogs know me better than most people do – I never have to be anything other than myself, and there’s something beautiful about that. Our pets see us at our best and our worst, and no matter what, they love us just the same.
If this article has peaked your interest in getting a pet, I encourage you to consider adopting from your local shelter; you can use Petfinder to help you find available animals in your area! Not only is it more cost effective, but you can also feel good because you’d most definitely be saving a life.
Kara Montgomery, neurotoxicology researcher, product development specialist
Kara believes the small choices of what we expose ourselves to on a day-to-day basis have a profound impact on our overall health. As a published neurotoxicology researcher, Kara has studied the link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease, participating in studies that have garnered around $1 million in NIH funding. With this knowledge, Kara takes a critical eye to the products and habits all of us engage with on a regular basis. She holds a BS in Neuroscience from King University.