7 Surprising Benefits of Owning a Pet

Monday Aug 18 | BY |
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Health Benefits Pets

Studies show that pets can boost your mood, make you more attractive, and even help you live longer.

If you own a pet, you already know they’re good for you. They keep you active, are always happy to see you, and provide a type of unconditional love that’s hard to match.

There are other health benefits to pet ownership you may not have thought about, though. Below are seven of them. Let us know if you are aware of more!

  1. They help you meet new people. Studies show that a strong social support network is just as important to health and longevity as diet and exercise. Pets—particularly dogs—can help us meet new people and form new friendships based on a shared love of animals. Researchers from the United Kingdom even did a study on the issue, and found that having a dog along increased people’s interactions. More specifically, the presence of a dog almost tripled the number of casual acquaintances who spoke to test subjects. “Dogs act as social ‘ice breakers,’” said Dr. June McNicholas, senior research fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick in the U.K., “and help people strike up friendly conversation with others.”
  2. They make you look more attractive. A 2014 survey found that 82 percent of people would feel more confident approaching an attractive person if they had their dog with them. A study from the University of Bretange Sud in France studied the effect dogs have on social interactions, and found that when a male test subject approached women alone, he was able to get their phone number one out of ten times. When he had a dog with him, he received a phone number one of three times. Another study found that people rated photos of people with a dog as more relaxed, approachable, and happy than those pictured without a dog.
  3. They make people more likely to help you. If you’re stuck on the side of the road, it’s better if you have your dog with you. A 2008 study found that a man with a dog who dropped coins on the street was more likely to receive help from others in picking them up than a man without a dog. Men with a dog were also more likely to receive money when they asked for it on the street than men without a dog.
  4. They act as an effective antidepressant. Pet ownership boosts your mood. In fact, according to a 2005 study, playing with a pet raises levels of the “good mood” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine and decreased the stress hormone cortisol. Studies have also shown that watching a fish swim lowers blood pressure and muscle tension. The effects are so positive that many hospitals and nursing homes now use pet therapy to help boost the mood of recovering patients.
  5. They lower risk of allergies. A 2011 study found that children who were exposed to animals at a young age had lower rates of nasal allergies as adolescents. Compared to people who didn’t have pets during childhood, those who grew up on a farm were 30 percent less likely to have nasal allergies later on, while those who grew up with a cat or dog alone were still 15 percent less likely to suffer nasal allergies. Another study that same year found that growing up with pets cut kids’ risk of developing pet allergies by half.
  6. They help you live longer. Pets help people live happier lives, but they may also help them live longer lives. Researchers looked at patients discharged from a coronary care unit, and found that those who had pets at home had a better survival rate than those who didn’t. Another study from the Minnesota Stroke Institute, those who owned a cat were 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack over a period of 10 years. They were also less likely to suffer other types of cardiovascular disease, including stroke, than people without domestic pets. Other studies have shown that pet owners have lower levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides than those who don’t own pets.
  7. They help you deal with rejection. You didn’t get the promotion. You weren’t invited to that important meeting or social get together. The job didn’t come through. That attractive person turned you down for a date. According to a 2011 study, your pet can help you feel better. Researchers had participants write about a time in their lives when they felt rejected or excluded. They then wrote another passage about their best friend, their closest pet, or they drew a map of the campus. Results showed that thinking about one’s pet could be just as effective in reducing the negative feelings of rejection as thinking about one’s best friend. The study concluded that pets can offset negativity resulting from a rejection experience.

Do you know of other health benefits of pet ownership? Please share your thoughts.

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Rebecca Sweat, “Studies Show Walking the Dog Helps People Meet People,” Pet Place, http://www.petplace.com/dogs/studies-show-walking-the-dog-helps-people-meet-people/page1.aspx.

Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, “Cupid’s Labrador,” Slate, February 13, 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/02/dogs_can_help_you_get_a_date_and_look_more_attractive_the_power_of_a_labrador.html.

Nicolas Gueguen, et al., “Domestic Dogs as Facilitators in Social Interaction: An Evaluation of Helping and Courtship Behaviors,”Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People and Animals, December 1, 2008; 21(4):339-349, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/berg/anthroz/2008/00000021/00000004/art00002.

Kelly Ann Rossbach, John P. Wilson, “Does a Dog’s Presence Make a Person Appear More Likable?: Two Studies,” Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People and Animals, 1992; 5(1):40-51, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bloomsbury/azoos/1992/00000005/00000001/art00005.

June McNicholas, et al., “Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues,” BMJ November 2005; 331: 1252, http://www.bmj.com/content/331/7527/1252.

Therese J. Borchard, “6 Ways Pets Relieve Depression,” Psych Central, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/05/19/6-ways-pets-relieve-depression/.

Melanie Claire Matheson, et al., “Early-life riks factors and incidence of rhinitis: Results from the European Community Respiratory Health Study—an international population-based cohort study,” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, October 2011; 128(4):816-823.e5, http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(11)00865-7/abstract.

Paivi M. Salo, et al, “Does exposure to cats and dogs decrease risk of developing allergic sensitization and disease?” J Allergy Clin Immunol., October 2009; 124(4):751-752, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2783630/.

E. Friedmann, et al., “Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit,” Public Health Rep. Jul-Aug 1980; 95(4):307-312, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1422527/.

Adnan I Qureshi, et al., “Cat ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-Up Study,” J Vasc Interv Neurol. January 2009; 2(1):132-135, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3317329/.

Allen R. McConnell, et al., “Friends with Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011; 101(6):1239-1252, http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-101-6-1239.pdf.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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