Owning a pet can improve your health in many ways but as to how much is open to interpretation.
For example a study on the relationship between pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease indicates that pets do have a positive influence but that more investigation is required (1) . Even so it would be logical that if you suffer from an animal related phobia, anxiety or an allergic reaction then the health benefits of a pet would need to be obtained elsewhere.
So what are the possibilities of health improvement when it comes to having a pet?
This would be dependant on what type of pet you have. If your pet needs exercise then the health benefits will increase (for both of you). If it’s a cat then the company could put you in a good mood especially the bond created from a excitable, comic kitten and then to a cat that welcomes you home after a difficult day. A tortoise may not be as exciting but they can live up to 70 years so even though the friendship may be more subtle it will have plenty of time to grow.
Whatever the benefit, tangible or not, animals can potentially reduce your stress through relaxation and exercise. They are also social magnets. In this day of electronic devices that redirect our social interaction, pets can help us reconnect with people. How many times have you spoken to a complete stranger because of your interaction with their pet? So you could say that pets build social cohesion or at least help you get to know your neighbours better.
Having these positive interactions or even just having a friend that’s there when you wake every morning is sure to lift your mood and potentially help you be happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who prefer the exclusive company of humans. A pet can give us a sense of belonging and meaning or at the very least something to care for other than ourselves.
This affection can go both ways as there are many stories of pets not only caring for their owners but physically saving their lives. Putting their senses to use has also been pursued in the name of medicine. For example a dog’s sense of smell is on average 10,000 to 100,000 times superior to that of humans. This ability has seen our canine friends in studies to prove that they can identify bladder, melanoma, breast and lung cancer.
Regardless of the findings, the bond between animals and humans is special and when nurtured can be beneficial to both.