The Perks of Owning a Pet
Why You Should Welcome a “Fur Baby” into Your Home
A companion pet is not just an animal - they’re a family member. Adopting a cat or a dog is literally growing your family. A pet is another life to be responsible for providing shelter, exercise, food, baths, and doctor’s appointments. Most importantly, when you welcome a pet into your family, you need to dedicate time to focus on them and spend enough time giving them love. To non-pet-owners, this sounds like a lot of work, detracting from your time, energy, and money. And, honestly, it does take effort to care for a companion pet, but it is so worth all of the energy. 72.9 million families in the United States agree. That is 62% of households in the US that have taken on the responsibility of caring for a companion animal (1). Some families even have two pets. Personally, my family has two dogs (unfortunately, my mom is allergic to cats or I’m sure at least one cat would be in the picture) and I cannot imagine a life with just one, let alone none. Pets truly are “fur babies” that provide so many benefits when you adopt a pet and welcome this new child-like life into your home.
The perks that come with adopting a pet are rooted in biochemical bodily processes. Owning any animal - there is no difference between a cat or a dog - causes improvement in the functioning of our bodies. Spending time with a pet decreases blood pressure and cholesterol, which prevents heart diseases (2). Additionally pets provide a natural, living source of relaxants and anti-stress. Petting an animal lowers cortisol, a stress hormone, and boosts serotonin, a happy hormone. These chemical changes elevate your mood. Why turn to stress-eating when you can just cuddle with your cat or dog? This mode of stress-relief is healthier for you and more cost efficient. All those pints of ice cream add up, especially when you love Ben & Jerrys so much!
Further than immediate stress relief, pets improve your general health in the long-term. In 2002, researchers compared the health of pet-owners with the health of those that did not have a pet. At a base level, pet-owners had lower resting heart rates and blood pressures than the non-pet-owners. Later in the study, the participants were given a timed math task - a very stressful situation, which most of you probably relate to. Non-pet-owning participants were more prone to spikes in heat rates and blood pressure during the timed math assessment. Contrastingly, the participants with pets were better able to handle the stressful situation. Their heart rate spikes were lower, and their heart rates returned to baseline more quickly. These participants also made fewer mathematical errors when their pets were present with them (3). Who knew the secret to math tests was having a pet with you?
Not only do pets positively influence our physical health, but our emotional health as well. Human beings are social beings, which, as we’ve all been thrown into a pandemic of isolation, I'm sure you've realized. Having a companion pet eases loneliness, which is important all the time, not just during a pandemic. Pets comfort you at all times in your life, whether you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, the loss of a friend or family member, or even something that may seem trivial like a bad exam grade or job rejection. Companion pets do not distinguish between levels of stress and come eager to cuddle and cheer you up in all of those situations. Their comforting powers are partially grounded in the science of our brains - the serotonin boosts that elevates our mood. A study in Australia focused on 199 people struggling with mental illnesses, ranging from depression to anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder. By physically interacting with a dog, 94% of the participant's anxiety was reduced. The dogs were also responsible for stopping “undesirable behavior” in 54% of the participants. Companion pets are literally live-saving (4).
Pets have proven to be valuable across the entire age spectrum. Starting at young children, those with family pets have less anxiety. These children also develop to be more empathetic, have higher self esteem, and participate in more social events (5). There has not been extensive research on the links between a child’s development and owning pets, but the studies done have expressed a beneficial outcome. When a pet was present at children’s doctor’s appointments, their blood pressure and heart rate was lower. The children also exhibit less behavioral distress. Imagine how much easier it would be to bring your child to get a shot if there was a pet present to reduce anxiety. This positive effect on children and their daily lives is a huge benefit of owning a pet.
Once you get to teenage/adulthood, it is harder to find time to take care of a pet, and it feels like more work. Between school or a job, a busy schedule, and a suddenly packed social life, when do you have time to play with your cat or walk your dog? It’s easy to give up on your pet, but staying committed and working your life around a companion animal will have long-term positive effects on your life. Firstly, having a pet structures your day, by holding you accountable to meal times, walks, and bed times. A pet will also force you to go outside for some fresh air and exercise, which can help you be more productive when you return from a little outdoor-break. In school, it was always hard for me to make time to get outside and get exercise, so I committed to walking my dog every night. This gave me a structure to my evenings, a nice power-walk break, and some quality time with my dog (even if it was brief). I would argue that the most important time to have a companion pet is during teenage/adulthood. The stress relief they provide and the lessons they teach you about prioritizing those you love (your pet) are priceless.
Companion pets provide many enhancements to the life of a retiree. Most retirees have more time to care for a pet, so they don’t face the same challenges as a young adult. However, some retirees live alone and do not get a chance to leave the house as often as they would like - especially not during Covid times. A pet provides companionship, a sense of belonging, love, and physical closeness. Pets also give elderly people more independence by putting them in the care-taking role. It gives some bored retirees a purpose by making them feel more responsible. This contributes to the physical well-being of elderly people. In a study, pet-owning elderly were better able to perform daily activities on their own, compared to non-pet-owning elderly. These tasks include climbing stairs, taking medication, cooking meals, and dressing oneself. There was no difference between dog or cat; all that mattered was that these people had a furry companion (6).
Despite the costs of owning a pet that initially seem burdensome, the positive influence a pet has in your life quickly makes the dread vanish. Take the leap, adopt a pet, and the tasks no longer seem like work. I’m telling you, you’re never going to want to go back to life without a fur baby. How can you put a price on having a source of unconditional love? The value of having a dependable companion is unquantifiable. Whether cat or dog, a companion pet reliable cheers up your worst days and celebrates your best days.
1. “Companion Animals.” Animal Welfare Institute , awionline.org/content/companion animals.
2. The Health Benefits of Companion Animals . Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007,
3. Allen K, Blascovich J, Mendes WB (2002). Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs. Psychosom Med. Sep-Oct; 64(5):727-39.
4. Team, Brain and Spine. “Why Having a Pet Can Boost Your Mood and Keep Your Brain Healthy.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic , Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 12 Oct. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/why-having-a-pet-of-any-kind-may-boost-your-mood-and-keep-your-brain-healthy/.
5. “The Health Benefits of Owning a Companion Animal.” The College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, cvm.msu.edu/news/perspectives-magazine/perspectives-fall-2018/the-health-benefits-of-owning-a-companion-animal.
6. Casciotti, Dana. “Animals Play an Important Role in Many People's Lives and Often Help with Therapy, Rehab, Etc. Learn More about the Possible Benefits of Pet Companionship.” National Center for Health Research, 31 Mar. 2017, www.center4research.org/benefits-pets-human-health/.