- A large percentage of Americans are pet owners.
- Having a pet comes with some surprising mental and physical benefits, especially if you own a dog.
- According to most studies, being a pet owner can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, help you recover from trauma, and reduce stress levels.
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Americans love their pets.
In fact, most of them have at least one furry friend. Surveys disagree on the exact number, but an estimated 49% to 68% of Americans are pet owners.
In the last few decades, scientists have tried to determine whether the "pet effect" — being healthier just by virtue of being a pet owner, or by interacting with an animal — is real. For the most part, they’ve found that pet owners are healthier, both physically and mentally, than people without pets.
Although not every study finds that being a pet owner is overwhelmingly good for your health, most studies do. The discrepancy may come down to the type of pet — not only the species, but the temperament of that pet.
Here are all the ways pets are good for you, backed by science.
Pets are good for your heart.
Pets, especially dogs, are good for your heart in two ways: they give you social support and they motivate you to exercise. If you have a dog that needs walking, you’re more likely to go outside than if you were sitting at home alone.
According to a 2017 study, owning a dog was associated with lower rates of both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality. The scientists who conducted the study said that this may be because dogs might make owners feel less lonely and stressed, and because they get their owners moving.
The American Heart Association (AHA) agrees that having a dog is good for your heart. According to them, some studies conclude that pets help reduce high blood pressure.
Dogs reduce stress levels.
A 2012 meta-analysis looked at 69 studies on how pets affect their owners, and most of them had one thing in common: stress reduction.
In addition to having lower rates of high blood pressure, pet owners showed a reduction of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. In one experiment, children were put in a socially stressful environment — one group had a friendly adult with them, and another had a friendly dog. The children with the friendly dog had lower cortisol levels. The more they played with the dog, the less stressed they were.
Pet owners visit the doctor less often.
That same meta-analysis looked at dog and cat owners and the frequency of their visits to the doctor. It found that, on average, dog and cat owners visited the doctor’s office less often. They also slept better and took fewer days off from work annually.
If doctor’s visits are taken as a sign of poorer health, the study concludes, dog and cat owners are the healthier group.
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