Those of us who own pets, know that they’re good for us. It is well documented in history too! Some sources suggest that even the ancient Greeks were aware of these benefits – encouraging those who were very ill to spend time with animals in the quest to recover.
However, beyond knowing that they’re good for us, do we know why? Or how? That’s what we’re here to explore!
What are some of the therapeutic benefits of pets?
Let’s get physical
Just imagine if your personal trainer showed up at your door every day, jumping up and down and begging you to go for a walk… Now that would be a dedication to your physical health! This accountability to be active is one of the many benefits of owning a pet – even if it doesn’t feel like a benefit all the time.
Research has found that dog owners are more physically active than non-dog owners, with one study finding that those with a furry friend are four times more likely to meet activity recommendations! This positive influence goes a long way towards maintaining physical health and even protecting against many diseases, particularly those of a cardiovascular nature.
Happy pet, happy life?
We all know of the well-established benefits of connection and companionship for mental health. Apparently, this isn’t just the case for human-to-human connection! Research suggests that pets provide similar benefits, and – consider this – compared to the complexities of maintaining human relationships, pets don’t ask for much in return. Now that’s a deal!
Spending time with pets can increase quality of life, reduce stress, improve mindfulness and reduce loneliness, just to name a few perks. One study found that elderly people when paired with a pet, experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms of 50%! Research done on students found that, during stressful periods, spending time with animals reduces stress significantly. Those undergoing cancer treatment also benefit, with improvements in pain, social connection and emotional well-being showcased in research.
So how do they work their magic?
How is it that pets, without any certification, education, or work experience whatsoever, are so capable at improving people’s mental and physical health?
Perhaps the most simple, yet substantial, way they work their magic is by offsetting loneliness – just by being our friend! They are great at this. Many pets become attuned to our emotions and are able to comfort us, or feed into our joyful moments. Another less obvious way pets improve our mental health is by giving us someone to care for. Because they solely rely on us, we gain a sense of purpose by looking after them. Try putting yourself in the position of someone who is living alone for the first time – simply having a cat that they need to feed and give attention to, provides responsibility, accountability, and in turn, self-worth.
Lastly, think about all the things we learn from pets on observation. There are so many that there are whole books relaying these lessons! Patience, forgiveness, mindfulness, playfulness…. All things which can only be good for our mental health.
Now, as exercise physiologists, we’re not trying to put ourselves out of a job… But the right person / pet fit can tick all the boxes for health – physical, mental, emotional, and social. So if you’re considering getting a pet (or trying to convince your spouse!), there are legitimate health / therapeutic benefits of pets. Consider it a scientifically-backed investment for your health!
- Young, Judith S. Pet Therapy, Journal of Christian Nursing: October/December 2012 – Volume 29 – Issue 4 – p 217-221 doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0b013e31826701a7
- Hooker, Shirley D. RN, BSN; Holbrook Freeman, Linda RN, DNS; Stewart, Pamela RN, BSN Pet Therapy Research, Holistic Nursing Practice: October 2002 – Volume 17 – Issue 1 – p 17-23
- Salvatore Giaquinto & Fabio Valentini (2009) Is there a scientific basis for pet therapy?, Disability and Rehabilitation, 31:7, 595-598, DOI: 10.1080/09638280802190735
- Moretti, F., de Ronshi, D., Bernabei, V., Marchetti, L., Ferrari, B., Forlani, C., Negretti, F., Sacchetti, C., & Atti, A. R. (2010). Pet therapy in elderly patients with mental illness. Psychogeriatrics, 11(2), 125–129. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-8301.2010.00329.x
Author: Tessa Nielsen Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Content Creator at Specialised Health
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