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The Power of Pets

Date: 01/01/22

Two out of every three American homes includes a pet. That’s 85 million of us, up 20% from 1988. Pets are our companions, working partners, and hiking buddies. Many pet parents can’t imagine life without their furry friends. But did you know that spending time with a dog, cat, or other animal can help both your physical and mental health?

Pets and heart health

People with pets, especially dogs, may have a lower risk of heart disease. Studies show that dog owners also have lower blood pressure and healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-owners. The reason for this isn’t clear, but it may be because pets have a calming effect or because dog owners tend to get more exercise.

Pets and mental health

Interacting with pets has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and increase serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. Other mental health benefits of having pets include:

  • Reduced Stress. People with pets have lower heart rates and blood pressure, and those measures return to normal faster after stress.
  • Better Mood. Research shows that people with pets laugh more than people without pets. 87% of doctors surveyed said their patients’ mood had improved as a result of pet ownership.
  • Reduced Loneliness. Pet ownership has been shown to reduce loneliness in people who live alone. They can often sense when their owners are upset, and offer unconditional love.
  • Stay Social. Pets can help people, especially seniors, start conversations and meet new people. This can decrease feelings of isolation and help build friendships.
  • Reduce Anxiety. Pets provide support, stability, and meaning in one’s life. They can also help reduce nervousness and build self-confidence. The simple act of hugging or touching your furry friend can reduce anxiety and have a calming effect.
  • Set Structure. Many pets require regular feeding and exercise schedules. No matter your mood – happy, depressed or anxious – you’ll always have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet. Need extra motivation to exercise in the morning? Stick to a set time and bring your buddy along for your morning run or walk.

Pets and kids

The love and companionship of a pet is important for children, too. By caring for a pet, kids can learn responsibility, compassion and empathy. For children with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, animals can help focus attention and are calming. Some children with autism or other learning difficulties can better communicate with pets than people, and one study showed that children with autism who played with guinea pigs also had better social interactions and were more engaged with their peers.

Written by Cindy Maxim

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Please always follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Programs and services are subject to change. Managed Health Network, LLC (MHN) is a subsidiary of Health Net, LLC. The MHN companies include Managed Health Network and MHN Services, LLC. Health Net and Managed Health Network are registered service marks of Health Net, LLC or its affiliates. All rights reserved.