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Prescription for Good Health: Own a Pet

Anyone who shares their abode with a pet knows that animals can enrich your life in countless ways, including having a positive impact on your health. Here’s just a few of the many health benefits of owning a pet:

  • Increases physical activity -- Several studies have shown that dog owners may get more exercise and than the rest of us. And since getting regular physical activity is an important factor in the prevention of many health conditions—from cardiovascular disease to diabetes and cancer—this pet perk alone is reason enough to adopt a four-legged friend.
  • Helps manage weight -- One investigation looked at more than 2,000 adults and found that dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were less likely to be obese than those who didn’t own or walk a dog.
  • Improves mobility – A three-year study involving more than 2,500 older adults, ages 71-82 found that those who regularly walked their dogs walked faster and for longer time periods each week than others who didn’t walk regularly. Older dog walkers also had greater mobility inside their homes than others in the study.
  • Supports heart health – Several large, well-designed studies suggest that fido can help improve our cardiovascular health. One study looked at 421 adults who’d suffered heart attacks. A year later, dog owners were significantly more likely to still be alive than were those who did not own dogs, regardless of the severity of the heart attack. But it’s not just dogs that keep us heart healthy; cat owners also have significantly lower rates of cardiac events.
  • Lowers risk of stroke – We’re not sure why, but cat owners have fewer strokes than people who don’t own cats. Owning a pet in general can lower many risk factors for stroke, but researchers speculate that cats may have a more calming affect than other animals. It may also have something to do with the personality of cat owners themselves.
  • Improves ability to handle stress – In a study of 240 married couples, those who owned a pet were found to have lower heart rates and blood pressure, whether at rest or when undergoing stressful tests, than those without pets. Pet owners also seemed to have milder responses and quicker recovery from stress when they were with their pets than with a spouse or friend.
  • Elevates mood – not only do pets help reduce cortisol levels associated with stress, they can also increase levels of serotonin which promotes feelings of well-being. Therapists have been known to prescribe a pet as a way of dealing with and recovering from depression.
  • Sparks social interaction – Pets can help you make friends and spur social interactions. Studies have shown that walking a dog leads to more conversations and helps you stay socially connected. And studies indicate that people who have more social relationships tend to live longer and are less likely to show mental and physical declines as they grow older.
  • Reduces pain and anxiety – in clinical settings, therapy dogs can help reduce pain, fear and anxiety in patients of all ages which can improve health outcomes and speed healing.
  • Supports child development – pet’s can promote healthy social and behavioral development in children. Therapists and researchers have reported that children with autism are sometimes better able to interact with pets, and this may help in their interactions with people. Taking care of a pet helps children with ADHD learn to follow a schedule and be responsible. Playing with a pet is also a great way to release excess energy.
  • Promotes healthy immune system - Researchers have found children who grow up in a home with a dog or cat are less likely to develop allergies. This holds true for kids who live on a farm with livestock. Children who grow up around animals also show signs of a stronger immune system.
  • Lifesaving sensitivity  - Dogs can often sense when we are in health trouble and have been trained to warn their owners when they have dangerously low blood sugar or are about to have a seizure. In recent years researchers are using dogs’ keen sense of smell to detect cancer.


Of course having a pet isn’t without some health risks. Young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for getting sick from animals. Take these steps to reduce your risk.

  • Wash hands thoroughly after contact with animals.
  • Keep your pet clean and healthy, and keep vaccinations up to date.
  • Supervise children under age 5 while they’re interacting with animals.
  • Prevent kids from kissing their pets or putting their hands or other objects in their mouths after touching animals.
  • Avoid changing litter boxes during pregnancy. Problem pregnancies may arise from toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease spread by exposure to cat feces.


National Institutes of Health



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