More than 65% of U.S. households own a pet, with dogs and cats being the most popular. Adding to pets’ charm are the many benefits they offer for human health and well-being. The “Pet Effect,” or the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that often provides companionship, love and affection.
Let’s take a look at the positive impact our animal buddies can have on our lives.
1. Pets Can Help Reduce Our Stress
Positive human-animal interaction is associated with biological responses in both humans and animals which reduce psychological stress. A recent study found that children with pet dogs had lower levels of the “stress hormone,” cortisol when interacting with their animal companions compared to children who did not actively engage with them.
2. Pets Can Improve Mental Health
Interactions with animals can help manage long-term mental health conditions. In fact, many organizations recognize animal-assisted therapy as an effective treatment for depression and other mental illness. Pets and therapy animals can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation as well as provide a sense of security, support and routine.
3. Pets Can Strengthen Relationships and Social Skills
Research has found that adult pet owners report greater relationship quality and investment than non-pet owners. Those who indicated greater attachment to animals during adolescence demonstrated greater empathy and confidence as adults as well. Research also suggests that a household pet may be beneficial to children with autism who may be having difficulties in social relationships.
4. Better Heart Health
Did you know that your pet could be protecting your heart health, too? The American Heart Association recently concluded that owning a pet, especially a dog, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Pet owners often have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and are less likely to be obese as well.
5. Better Sleep Quality
Studies have shown that sharing a sleeping space with your pet may actually lead to a better night’s sleep, due to the feelings of security, companionship and relaxation pets can offer.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has partnered with Mental Health America to share information and resources on the positive impact of the human-animal bond on mental health. As research continues to expand, awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership and animal-assisted intervention will likely continue to grow.
By Gina Pellrine, LMSW