Whether you’re a dog person, a cat person, or rather fond of your goldfish, there’s plenty of research to show that having a pet improves your general health and wellbeing. But just exactly why is it so beneficial for us humans to have animal companions? Here are six reasons why taking care of a pet is good for your health:
- They provide companionship. Humans are wired naturally as social creatures, with a craving for connection with others. For people who live alone or who have lost loved ones and feel lonely as a result, a pet can fill that void of companionship. If you own a dog, striking up a conversation with other dog owners on walks is automatically easier – and so provides more chances to connect with others too.
- It encourages exercise. This typically won’t apply to cat owners, but if you have a dog, it will need to be walked regularly – even multiple times a day if it’s a puppy. Whether it’s a walk on the beach, a jog in the forest or just a stroll round the block to the local park, owning a pet is a wonderful way to get into a regular exercise routine. Not to mention the fact that it helps your dog to socialise with other canines – and it keeps them healthy, too.
- They provide sensory stress relief. Dr Alan M. Beck, Director of the Centre for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University in Indiana, has found through research that stroking a dog or cat – or even just being in their presence – results in a drop in our blood pressure. With the stresses of modern life, animals can be a very effective antidote to making you feel calmer and less anxious, simply by being around them.
- They can give you meaning. As we get older, we realise that everything is temporary: your children may grow up and leave home, or you may retire from your job and find yourself suddenly without a primary purpose in life. Having a pet – especially a rescue – can help you find renewed purpose, as you realise you’re providing home for an animal and need to take on the responsibility for looking after them.
- They improve allergy resistance in children. Several studies have shown that there are reduced incidences of allergies in children who have regular exposure to pets. One study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden tracked 249 children from birth until they were nine years old. The results found that 48% of children who had had no exposure to pets in their first year had allergies, as opposed to 35% for children who had one pet, and 21% for children who had lived with two or more pets from birth.
- They help improve your outlook on life. After a bad day, it’s hard not to have your mood lifted when you’re greeted at home by the unconditional love a pet typically demonstrates. There’s science to prove this, too: a 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that adopting a pet enhances antidepressant effects in patients with major depressive disorder.
Owning a pet comes with a fair share of commitment and responsibility. But the positive effects they can have on your health – plus the bond you’re likely to develop with them over the years – make it all the more worthwhile. Something valuable to note if you do opt for a pet, there are medical schemes such as Fedhealth who have pet accident cover as part of their Sanlam Reality member benefits. So if you’ve been on the fence about getting your first pet, maybe now’s the time? Just be sure to do your research, appreciate the commitment involved and then take that next step.