Dog has long been called man’s best friend. It is an assessment that is often based on the dog’s behavior: its loyalty, love, and eagerness to please. Pet owners like Sharon Reid of Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she’s experienced such devotion firsthand. “After my husband passed, my dog was the most reliable constant in my life to help me through the difficult months that followed.”
Among the most widely understood and accepted health benefits of pet ownership is that pets provide better coping strategies for stress, can promote greater empathy and compassion, and that their companionship “can protect people from the ravages of loneliness,” says Alan Beck, a professor of animal ecology and the director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University in Indiana.
These benefits are reflected in a recent survey from the American Psychiatric Association, which revealed that 86 percent of owners feel their pets have a mostly positive impact on their mental health; and that some 90 percent consider the animal to be a member of the family.
But understanding the degree to which pets contribute to the mental health and wellbeing of their owners is a matter of some debate among scholars. While most academics agree that certain benefits are well established, others may not be as rooted in scientific evidence as some believe.
Better cardio and mental health from pet ownership
Among the established benefits is that pet/owner interactions can enhance one’s quality of life. Research shows that playing with a dog can improve one’s mood, that reading to a pet can help children with learning development issues, that pets can lessen levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol in their owners, and that having a pet can increase one’s physical activity levels, according to the American Heart Association.
Indeed, Reid says that taking her Australian Shepherd out for a walk is sometimes the only time she devotes to exercise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that pet-inspired fitness can “decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels.”
There’s also broad consensus on the mental health benefits that come from frequently connecting with anot……