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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Yumna Farooq

Published in Lifestyle

8 min read

July 18, 2022
a couple of people and a dog
a couple of people and a dog

Here's a fun fact: over 68 percent of U.S. households have a pet. And if you have a furry friend, you already know the joy they’ve brought into your life. 

But did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face (although that‘s a big win on its own)?

More and more research is coming to the surface to illuminate all the ways that pets improve our wellbeing.

And if you don’t own a pet, don't worry! We'll cover how to get some time with these lovable creatures (therapy pets), even if you don't have one, later on in this article.

In the meantime, read on to learn the benefits of living with a pet, interacting with domesticated animals, and giving your furry friend a hug (not that you needed an excuse).

Benefits of Having a Pet

a girl holding a dog over her shoulder

There are many benefits of having a pet, whether mental, physical or something that helps you gain self-awareness.

After all, there's someone else you have to take good care of—your pet depends on you (for food, for walks, etc.).

Sometimes it may feel like you need to curate your schedule around their needs, especially if your pet is sick or needs additional attention. Their walking schedule may look different depending on if you live in an apartment or house and whether there’s a dog park in your neighborhood.

But while there are some challenges (like when your pet invites themselves to your Zoom meetings), we can all agree that it’s worth it at the end of the day.

Over the last few years, the National Institute of Health has partnered with the Mars Corporation’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition to bring the health benefits of pets to light.

So let’s uncover what your furry friend can do for your health!

Mental Health Benefits of Pets

a man petting his dog

Reduces Anxiety and Promotes Peace

Research shows that pets like cats and dogs can reduce anxiety levels. It may be because they promote social activity and awareness. 

Because they make for a loyal companion, they increase feelings of social support. Even the presence of a loyal companion creates a sense of security and stability, which is helpful for those with anxiety (as a sense of instability marks anxiety).

It can also apply to other types of pets. Even watching a fish swimming in a tank promotes feelings of calm and reduces muscle tension.

Altogether, pets can reduce anxiety by promoting awareness, giving social support, and instilling stability. This is what scientists call the “magic effect” (well, half of it).

Reduces Depression and Boosts Mood

The other half of the “magic effect” is the ability of an animal companion to improve depression. Again, this is because they provide social support, security, and stability.

Your furry friend reduces or eliminates feelings of isolation, which contributes significantly to depression (hence the emphasis on the friend). Feelings of loneliness can aggravate existing low moods or depression.

Pets can improve mood and overall well being by simply being there as your best friend.

It's important to note that this should be balanced by the "burden” of caring for a pet (feeding them, taking care of the litter box). While some see it as no burden, those who are depressed can feel apathetic or catatonic, making taking care of a pet difficult.

Physical Health Benefits of Pets

a girl kissing her cat

Reduces Cortisol Levels

Along with mental health benefits, one of the most prominent physical health benefits of having a pet is that it reduces cortisol levels, the stress hormone.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that, if left unchecked for an extended period, can create various health problems, especially for your metabolism and endocrine health.

The good news is that this benefit applies to positive animal interactions. So, if you don’t own a pet, you can still reduce stress and lower cortisol levels by visiting a local cat cafe or dog park.

May Improve Glucose Regulation

Having a pet can instill positive habits in you that carry forward to aspects of your health.

One of these aspects is self-monitoring your health and being proactive regarding your wellness.

One study demonstrated this by investigating how caring for a fish helped teens manage diabetes.

The authors found that those who cared for their pet fish were more aware and disciplined at checking their blood glucose levels than those who did not have a pet fish to look after. And as you may know, monitoring blood glucose is crucial for diabetes management.

Lower Blood Pressure and Improves Heart Health

Along with improving metabolic health, pet ownership can also improve cardiovascular health. 

Research shows that having a pet significantly decreased blood pressure in those with borderline hypertension within five months.

The researchers also found that pet ownership benefits other aspects of heart health, such as lower pulse and arterial pressure (compared to non-owners).

Does the Type of Pet Make a Difference?

2 dogs and a cat laying together

Research seems to think so! A study found that dog owners had more physical activity, lowered blood pressure, and reported better health than cat owners and non-owners.

In fact, the researchers later found that cat ownership was more associated with depression and anxiety than dog ownership.

Some other benefits discussed also apply to pet fish, such as lowered anxiety and improved glucose management.

But research is ongoing, so we wouldn't draw any conclusions from this. Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s any one “ideal” pet. Research is just one part of the picture here, the rest depends on what the right fit for you is—all animals are wonderful in our book! 

We’re big on finding what’s best for your individual needs. Like our nutrition philosophy, we believe that finding the right pet for you will make the most significant difference in your health and mood.

Don’t take it from me, though; let’s hear from some Nutrisense team members on how their furry friend has brought joy into their lives!

The Nutrisense Team on How Their Pets Have Changed Their Lives for the Better

Natalie Krafft on How Much Joy Her Poodle Brings Her

natalie in the park with her poodle

Natalie Krafft, Content Writer

“I adopted a poodle a few years ago, and it has been such a rewarding experience! They make such great companions and can bring so much joy to your life, plus I get lots of extra steps during the day from taking him on his walks!”

Carlee Hayes on How Her Dog Fills Her With Love and Joy

carlee with her dog

Carlee Hayes, Nutrition Manager

“My dog brings me a ton of joy, and cuddling him is a part of my daily routine. We know that any affection from an animal can stimulate oxytocin, or the love hormone, which can cause us to feel more love and joy! In a literal sense, love from an animal can improve your life—and I definitely feel that!”

Vika on Giving Her Rescue Cat a New Home

carlee with her dog
vika's cat when it was rescued

Vika Stadnichenko, Visual Designer

“Introducing my cat Kendrick! I found him on the street almost two years ago: He was just a week old, not showing any visible signs of life. With the vet's support, we fought for him to make a full recovery — it took around six months. So from the first day I found him, he has been living with me (I couldn’t imagine having a cat because I always thought I was a dog-lover). But now he's my one and only, my cutest, most loving (and already fattest!) cat in the whole world. I can’t imagine how I was living without him before.”

Heather Davis on The Immense Gratitude She Feels For Her Pets

heather's horse in a field
heather's horse eating
heather's two dogs laying together

Heather Davis, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

“Animals are the best, and I’d be lost without mine! My dogs Harvey and Kiva and horses Cheyenne and Buttercup bring so much joy to my life in a way nothing and no one else can. I feel grateful for them every day, even if it means never being able to sleep in past 6 a.m. ever again!”

Rhea Dhanbhoora on How Her Cat Helped Her Through Health Challenges

rhea with her cat
rhea with her cat

Rhea Dhanbhoora, Content Marketing Manager

“Animals have always been a source of comfort for me, especially when I'm experiencing anxiety or depression. And Chloe, my little Siberian kitten, came into our lives at a pretty opportune time. She's been a source of joy and comfort through all sorts of ups and downs in life, including multiple pretty major surgeries. She’s pretty cuddly for a cat, which helps (and she goes everywhere we go!), but it's usually just her presence that does it. I can't imagine life without her.”

A Note on Therapy Pets

Therapy pets can be beneficial for improving overall wellbeing, although since a lot of the research on therapy pets has been done with dogs, there's still a way to go before we have the complete picture here. 

From what we do know, scientists found that therapy dogs help make cancer therapy easier for people (compared to a friendly human and quiet reading time), especially as cancer therapy can be hard on the immune system. They also improve social and emotional wellbeing.

But from reading this article, you know that positive interactions with any friendly animal companion can promote feelings of social involvement and improve mood.

So, if you haven’t already, this is an excellent opportunity to arrange for some quality one-on-one time with a furry friend!

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Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Reviewed by: Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health and has since been passionate about helping people translate this complex glucose data into actionable changes anyone can implement into their everyday lives.

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