By: Taylor Eisenstein
Our animal friends are more than just cute; they also provide companionship, social support, and affection. Many studies demonstrate the potentially beneficial impacts of companion animals on humans’ emotional and psychological well-being. According to a literature review conducted by Deborah Wells, companion animals may decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, potentially increase self-esteem, and help alleviate stress, especially during difficult life events. A study conducted in 2011 similarly found that pet owners experienced a greater sense of well-being, in addition to “healthier positive personality characteristics,” such as greater conscientiousness; this study also indicated that thinking about one’s pet was effective in alleviating negative feelings that stem from social rejection.
Some studies even illustrate that benefits stemming from contact with animals might extend to physical health as well. For instance, dogs—and other animals requiring physical exertion for care—are often significant motivators for exercise. Owners typically exhibit an increase in physical exercise from walking their dogs, which can benefit their overall physical health.
In previous studies, animals have also been shown to positively impact humans’ physical health in various other ways; companion animals have been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate and release hormones like serotonin.[1,5] Pet owners may also visit the doctor less and reduce risk of developing chronic illnesses. A 2017 study conducted in Sweden even illustrated that dog owners in single-person households had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and dog owners in the general population had lower mortality.
Despite existing research indicating positive effects that pets have on human health, additional research has provided mixed results, particularly in regard to physical benefits. Regardless, pets are significant to humans’ daily lives; they are largely treasured and viewed as another member of the family. Individuals typically don’t seek pets solely because they may lead to improved health. Instead, people “value the relationship and contribution their pet makes to their quality of life.”
1. Wells, D. L. (2009). The effects of animals on human health and well‐being. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 523-543.
2. McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011). Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(6), 1239.
3. Serpell, J. A. (1990, April). Evidence for long term effects of pet ownership on human health. In Pets, Benefits and Practice. Waltham Symposium (Vol. 20, pp. 1-7).
4. Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Nowak, C., Egenvall, A., Magnusson, P. K., Ingelsson, E., & Fall, T. (2017). Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death–a nationwide cohort study. Scientific reports, 7(1), 15821.
5. Knight, S., & Edwards, V. (2008). In the company of wolves: the physical, social, and psychological benefits of dog ownership. Journal of aging and health, 20(4), 437-455.
6. McNicholas, J., Gilbey, A., Rennie, A., Ahmedzai, S., Dono, J. A., & Ormerod, E. (2005). Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues. Bmj, 331(7527), 1252-1254.