Family With Dog
Adding a dog or cat to the family is good for everyone's health.

Get a Dog or Cat – and Help Your Health

if you just added a pandemic dog or cat to your household, you’re probably already realizing just how many benefits pet ownership has for your mental and physical health. But it’s not just theory – research shows that pet owners tend to be happier, have greater self-esteem, and be more physically fit than those who don’t have a four-legged companion in their lives. More specifically studies have found that owning a dog or cat can help with stress, depression, obesity, heart health, and more.

Here are 5 ways getting a dog or cat helps your health.

1. Pets Banish Stress

Having a bad day? Cuddle up with your four-legged friend. Studies have shown that the interaction between people and pets increases oxytocin levels in the brain. Oxytocin, known as the love or bonding hormone, has a physical effect on your body. It helps slow your heart rate and breathing, and prevents stress hormones, creating a sense of calm and comfort. So go ahead and snuggle up with your furry pal.

2. Pets Keep You from Getting Lonely

It doesn’t matter if you live by yourself or in a full house, studies show that pets help people feel less isolated and alone — and less depressed.3 The bond between people and pets is a source of important emotional support. In addition to this one-on-one companionship, researchers found that pet owners end up socializing more with people in their neighborhood.4 Another bonus of those regular dog walks.

3. Pets Get the Pounds Off

Maybe it’s the walks, hikes, or playing fetch, but it appears that all that work to keep your pup active is helping lower your risk of obesity. Researchers found that dog walking is linked to lower body mass index and fewer doctor visits for seniors.

4. Pets Protect Your Heart

According to the American Heart Association, having a pet may lower your risk of heart disease. Dog owners, in particular, tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels — most likely due to all those dog walks. One study found that dog owners did more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and they were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

5. Pets Help Prevent Allergies in Kids

It may come as a surprise to know that children who are exposed to cats and dogs at a young age have less chance of developing allergies and asthma. One theory is the exposure to the dog’s dirt and bacteria — from their fur and paws — helps kids build immunity. Similarly, researchers found that babies who lived with cats during the first year of their lives were less likely to be allergic to cats.

The research is clear — getting a dog or cat can work wonders for your mental and physical health. So if you have time in your schedule (and more of us do, these days!), foster or adopt a pet and discover how much better your life can be.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.