It’s easy to underestimate the health benefits of pets. While most American homes have at least one pet, “health reasons” isn’t why most of us adopt a furry friend.
That all said, the health and mood benefits of pets are real and worth discussing. Join us as we explain how getting a pet (or already owning one) might be doing good for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Benefit #1: Visit the Energizing Outdoors
It’s estimated Americans spend as much as 87% of their time indoors and another 6% in cars. However, that level of stagnation isn’t good for our health.
While it’s true one can exercise indoors, the truth is that we spend most of that time at work, on the computer, or engaged in other relatively unhealthy leisure activities such as watching TV.
Whether you’re an outlier and spend more time outside or not, pets often help give owners an excuse to leave the house and enjoy the outdoors.
This carries several tangential benefits we’ll talk about throughout this article but even the act of spending time outside has its benefits. For example, spending time in nature has been shown to make people feel more alive and energized.
Even a casual, regular walking of your pet outdoors can do a great deal of good for all parties involved. It can break your routine in a positive way and help get you motivated for any challenges ahead of you.
Benefit #2: Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a pretty serious condition that manifests in symptoms similar to depression. It’s also more common than we might expect, affecting an estimated 5% of adults in the U.S.
As the name applies, SAD is seasonal, with symptoms tending to show themselves in the shorter, less daylight-filled days of winter and then subsiding in the spring and summer.
While you should seek a healthcare professional if you believe you have SAD, pets can be a genuine help in fighting its symptoms.
Even though your pet isn’t going to cure you, they can make the winter feel less isolating and, as we discussed already, help get you outside and exposed to more sunlight than you would otherwise.
A big part of treating SAD is trying to build a sense of connection and pets can be a great first step in that regard. Pets offer a lot of what human connections offer, but with fewer strings attached and less room for drama.
Combined with a more robust treatment plan, pets are an excellent way to help one’s mental health and have a sense of companionship during what is often a difficult time of the year.
Benefit #3: (Some) Pets Can Get You Running
While most people won’t be jogging with their cats or birds any time soon, dog owners (who make up over 63% of pet owners) can use their pets as a great motivator to exercise.
Dogs are animals that thrive in outdoor play and one of the easiest ways to keep them engaged and healthy is to have them run. With a leash and some sneakers, you can start running with them!
When we discuss how pets help your health, it’s often about what they can motivate us to do. It’s hard to justify exercising on one’s own but now it’s about a fun activity for both you and your pet.
The odds are good that you’re never going to outpace your dog. They’re an animal that’s great at running (although you may in some respects be able to run longer than your friend if you get into good shape).
This means dogs are a great way to motivate both new and veteran runners since they can keep up the whole time with no or minimal breaks. The only caveat we’ll mention is to be mindful of the heat and how hot the ground of wherever you’re running might be.
Combined with some other strategies meant to achieve wellness, pets can be a great way to start getting into shape. They can help you push yourself, if not for your own health then for theirs.
Benefit #4: Loyal Companionship
It’s often difficult for adults, especially the elderly, to get out of the house and meet people. Unfortunately, human beings are social animals and this can impact our mental health.
Pets can be a great way to offset the feelings of loneliness some people might experience. If you live alone, they’re a great way to make a house feel less empty and more alive.
Additionally, having a bond with a pet tends to be less complicated than it is with an adult. So long as you provide for their basic needs, pets can be loyal, loving, and affectionate.
That said, if you’re buying a pet for companionship, be sure to choose one that suits that purpose. For instance, lizards can be great pets but they don’t express affection the same way a dog or cat might.
Dogs tend to be people’s go-to for companionship but cats can fit into the role pretty well too.
Benefit #5: Facing Social Anxieties
Pets can be a great stepping stone for people who deal with serious social anxieties. They’re living creatures that do pay attention to you but you can also be confident aren’t judging you in any meaningful way.
One way mental health experts have taken advantage of this is in helping kids with literacy problems. Many of these kids get anxious reading aloud but find it much easier when they’re reading to an attentive pet.
You can leverage these benefits on your own too. Talking to a pet may feel different than talking to a fellow human but it can still feel meaningful. Many pets also enjoy the attention, even if they don’t understand you.
There’s no shame in practicing one’s social skills and building up to talking to human beings via pets. It’s often far easier to build up to the point where you feel comfortable with other people with the help of a loyal friend.
Benefit #6: Develop a Healthy Routine
Pets need to be cared for. At first this may sound like a downside (and at times can be) but it also makes for an excellent motivator.
Many people who have poor mental health struggle to maintain a healthy routine. They may stay in bed for long periods, bathe irregularly, and sleep at strange times.
This can cause us to become trapped in a cycle. Our mental health is bad so we don’t take care of ourselves. But because we haven’t taken care of ourselves, we feel worse (or at least struggle to feel better).
Pets can help get us out of bed, jumpstarting our day, and thus can make it easier to then take care of ourselves as well as them.
However, when discussing how pets help your mood, we do want to note this benefit won’t be universal. For serious mental health issues, it is a good idea to talk to a mental health professional before getting a pet.
Pets can be great motivators but they still require a base level of mental wellbeing to care for. For your sake and that of the pet, you want to make sure you’re ready for the responsibility.
Benefit #7: The Multiple Benefits of Pet Therapy
This last benefit pets can provide is a somewhat different than the others we’ve discussed in that it tends to be more guided. You also won’t necessarily be the owner of the pet, even if you’re still benefitting.
Animal therapy, also called pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy, is a type of therapy growing in popularity where a pet handler (often the owner) works with a medical professional to help a patient.
As is always the case when talking about something like therapy, the form this treatment takes can vary quite a lot. It’s also not always going to be the case where the patient brings the pet home between sessions.
That said, this therapy can be great for those suffering from
- autism spectrum disorder
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- and more
It can also help more generally with those struggling with many of the issues we’ve discussed today, including loneliness or social anxiety.
Interestingly, pet therapy has been shown to help improve patients’ mood, reduced their signs of pain, and even made them more likely to continue going to therapy sessions.
By combining the way we tend to naturally bond with animals (notably horses and dogs) with the expertise of a medical professional, pet therapy can be a fantastic complementary treatment in a patient’s treatment plan.
The Health Benefits of Pets Don’t End There
Pets are wildly varied as are the health benefits they can bring to the table. Some can be beautifully vibrant to look at, others may require you to dive and swim, and the list only goes on.
If you’re still curious about more ways to improve your physical and mental wellbeing, contact us! We aim to bridge the gap between conventional medicine and alternative therapies and are sure to have offerings that will interest you.