Pets and Our Health: The Benefits of Our Bond with Animals

By Marlene Siegel, DVM in BRMI
young girl hugging kitten

According to a recent survey, 78% of pet owners acquired a pet during the pandemic. This represents a significant increase in pet ownership, which has been steadily increasing over the past three decades. In 1988, only 56% of U.S. households owned a pet, while as of 2023, 66% of U.S. households own a pet.

The pandemic has brought about changes in the way people live and work, and pets have played an important role in providing companionship and comfort during these challenging times.

We Have a Long History With Animals As Pets

From the earliest records, animals have had a relationship with mankind, although the history of pet ownership is not entirely clear. However, there is evidence that humans have been keeping animals as companions for thousands of years. Archaeological records depict animals in art, architecture, folklore and religious traditions, and a Paleolithic tomb in Northern Israel, dating back 12,000 years ago revealed that a human was buried with a dog or wolf puppy.

Cats have a long history with humans too, with the earliest archaeological evidence for cat and human cohabitation dating back 9,500 years in Cyprus, during the human transition to agriculture and the need to control vermin.

Many Benefits of Our Bond with Animals

Bringing a pet into your home should not be a decision to take lightly. Fulfilling the needs of a pet requires commitment – time, effort, expense, lifestyle changes, training, and sometimes even adequate space for exercise. However, despite the challenges of pet ownership, many people find that the benefits of having a pet outweigh the disadvantages for one or more of the following reasons:

Physical Benefits – Pets, such as dogs, often help owners be more physically active by engaging in activities with them. Many dog owners enjoy simple walks, hiking, biking, competitions, agility classes, and even competitive diving. Activities like these often result in decreased blood pressure along with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in their human “parent”.

Emotional Support – Studies have proven that animals can reduce loneliness, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and boost their owner’s mood. During the pandemic shut down this relationship became very apparent, with most shelters adopting out ALL their available pets. Research shows that the same hormones that bond mother and infant are released when a human gazes at their beloved companion pet. Studies have also found that people who are animal lovers have special genes that help them produce more oxytocin, the love hormone, which helps people to have more empathy, be friendlier and improve social bonding.

Social Benefits – People love sharing their lives with animals, especially since many pets give unconditional love. This can provide meaningful purpose in a pet owner’s life. In addition, many pet owners find that owning a pet connects them with other pet lovers as evident on social media where people bond over breeds, rescue groups, and even cute pictures of animals.

Therapy Dogs – Many dogs and other animals are used for a wide array of assistive services. For example, diabetic owners can be alerted that their blood sugar has dropped. Blind/legally blind owners use guide dogs, and people who are struggling with PTSD can feel safe and secure with a support dog. In addition, children with autism and other physical and psychological challenges can also benefit from interactions with dogs, cats, horses, and other animals.

Protection and Security – Dogs are effective deterrents to criminal behavior and can detect danger, alerting their owners to potential threats through their natural territorial instinct. Many burglars stay away from homes with a barking dog.

Spiritual Connection – Animals are a conduit to the natural world and are examples of how to joyfully “live in the moment”. For example, just watching a fish swim in a tank helps us connect to nature. As we engage in relationships with animals (and plants), we can bring awareness and meaningfulness to our lives, reconnecting us to the universal energy. The relationship with all animals (domestic and wild) helps us as humans to recognize the interconnected “energy field” with all of creation.

Whether we choose to bring a fur, feathered, or scaled creature into our lives, or they wander in and stay, know that nothing happens by accident and there are no coincidences. The animal experiences, the pets in your life, all hold meaning and valuable benefits for a more fulfilled and healthier life.


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