Owning a pet is no easy feat, but that hasn’t stopped Americans from adopting dogs and cats at staggering rates. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, approximately 36.5 percent and 30.4 percent of households in the United States have canine and feline furry family members, respectively. Averaged out, a cool third of American families own pets.
But a pet in the house is more than just a fun new family member: it’s a bona fide (albeit furry) mini medicine cabinet. From soothing muscle aches to slashing stress to even increasing your longevity, owning pet offers some serious, lasting benefits to your health. Here they are.
They help your heart.
Not only do adorable pets melt hearts with their sweet faces, but they apparently also keep your ticker in tip-top shape. That’s according to one study published in the journal Circulation, which found that owning a pet is correlated with both a reduced heart disease risk and increased survival among heart disease patients.
They keep you happy.
Any pet owner can attest to the fact that nothing is quite as comforting than cuddling up with a furry friend. In fact, one study conducted at Ohio State University found that for college students, simply owning a cat or dog was enough to help reduce their risk of becoming depressed or feeling lonely.
And prevent you from putting on pounds.
In the same Ohio State study, nearly 25 percent of participants reported that owning a dog or cat helped keep them active, primarily because their pets forced them to go outside for walks. And this is good news for owners’ waistlines, seeing as researchers from Duke University found that walking for just 30 minutes a day—whether it’s with or without your dog—can help prevent weight gain.
They de-stresses you.
Is a big test or a daunting work presentation severely upping your cortisol levels? Some downtime with your dog could help calm you down. In fact, according to one study out of SUNY Buffalo, just being around your pet is enough to reduce stress levels—even more than if you were to seek comfort from a loved one.
They protect children against allergies.
If you want to protect your child from developing allergies, then just get them a furry brother or sister. Research published in the journal Microbiome found that children who lived in homes with pets presents had higher levels of microbes associated with a reduced risk of allergic disease. The study authors believe that because pets expose children to bacteria and dirt at an early age, toddlers with a cat or dog are better able to develop immunity.
They help with PTSD.
When researchers at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine analyzed veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they found that “the group of veterans with service dogs had significantly lower levels of PTSD symptomology than those who did not have a service dog,” according to a press release.
They lower cholesterol levels.
According to the American Heart Association, owning a pet is one of the many ways you can lower your cholesterol levels (and it certainly beats cutting red meat out of your diet).
They reduce stroke risk.
Owning a pet of any kind is beneficial for heart health, but cat owners are especially protected in this particular area. Evidently, cat owners are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack and 40 percent less likely to have a stroke, as Marty Necker, DVM, veterinary expert and author of Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual explained to Woman’s Day.
They improve self-esteem.
Even though they can’t actually say anything, dogs and cats have the incredible capability to lift their owners up like no human can. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concluded that generally, pet owners benefit from greater self-esteem and mental wellbeing.
Pet owners make fewer doctor’s visits.
An apple a day might keep the doctor away—but if you’re not a fan of the fruit, you could always just get a dog or cat instead. According to one study published in Social Indicators Research, simply owning a pet can reduce a your number of doctor’s visits by about 15 percent annually.
And they take fewer medications.
If you want to save money on medications, just become the proud of owner of a canine or feline. According to another study published in the journal Social Indicators Research, pet owners were less likely than their pet-free counterparts to be on medications for things like heart problems and sleeping troubles. Getting a pet and living healthier: It’s a win-win.
They stave off diabetes.
Struggling to get off the couch and take your dog for a leisurely stroll? This information might motivate you: According to the Mayo Clinic, going for a walk every day helps to prevent and/or manage various health conditions, including type 2 diabetes.
They comfort you when you’re sick.
Cuddles from a loving dog or cat are the best medicine besides, well, medicine. And don’t just take it from us: When researchers at Case Western Reserve University examined female patients living with HIV/AIDS, they discovered that they were better able to cope with their chronic illnesses when they had a pet around (dogs especially).
They help people overcome their addictions.
After getting clean and sober, many former addicts end up relapsing due to stress and sadness. But according to the experts at Promises Treatment Center, this is less likely to happen with a pet around, as a furry friend serves as much-needed social support during a difficult time.
They give you better balance.
Another one of the many benefits of walking your dog (or cat—we don’t discriminate!) every day is that doing so can improve your balance and coordination.
They make you more social.
Pets are the ultimate conversation starters. If you’re too shy to approach a stranger on the street to make small talk, your dog is more than happy to break the ice for you with a few happy licks. And not only is this good for your social life, but it’s also good for your health: According to one study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, being social can benefit everything from mental health to physical wellbeing.
They lower your blood pressure.
For people who are too busy to take care of a dog or cat, fish are the ultimate pets. They’re cute, they don’t need to be walked or even played with, and just watching them swim can make you healthier. Seriously: According to one study published in Environment & Behavior, people who took time to appreciate aquarium displays had lowered heart rates and blood pressure thanks to the serenity that watching the fish brought them.
They keep you accountable.
If you’re having trouble sticking to your exercise regimen, just ask your pet to lend a helping hand (or paw). According to one study published in the journal Obesity, overweight individuals were more likely to complete their weight loss programs if their dogs were somehow involved.
They help smokers give up their vice.
Many people view their animals lovingly as little furry children, and so the last thing they’d ever want to do is harm them intentionally. That’s why when researchers from the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention informed current smokers with animals in the house about the harm that tobacco can do to their pet, more than 28 percent reported that they were going to try to quit smoking. And seeing as smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, this is definitely a celebratory health outcome all around.
They help heal infections and injuries.
Your cat’s purrs possess magical powers. Not only are they adorable, but studies have found that their vibration frequency is high enough to actually help heal everything from muscle injuries to swelling.
They prevent bone decay.
Don’t underestimate the power of going for a walk with your pooch. According to American Bone Health, walking every day can help delay age-related bone density and bone strength declines that can lead to inconvenient and painful injuries like hip fractures.
They help you sleep soundly.
Though sleeping with your dog or cat in the bed isn’t particularly conducive to a good night’s rest (as anyone with a big dog or space-hogging cat can attest), letting your animal sleep in the same room as you may actually help you feel more well-rested. That’s according to researchers from the Mayo Clinic, who studied 40 adult women and found that they slept best when their dogs were in the room thanks to feeling safer and more secure.
They prevent your skin from aging.
Having a pet is the ultimate way to fight back against the aging process. Your animal is going to force you to get outside, and studies have shown that sufficient amounts of vitamin D (which you get from the sun) help reduce wrinkles and even keep the mind sharp.
They keep diabetic people safe.
For people with diabetes, having a dog could be the difference between life and death. In one study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found that more than 65 percent of domestic dogs were able to detect at least one incidence of hypoglycemia, or severely low blood sugar, in their owners—and they weren’t even trained to do so!
They’re a natural pain reliever.
There’s a reason that service dogs are such frequent hospital guests. When researchers from Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing observed patients recovering from surgery, they found that those who received animal-assisted therapy requested less pain medication.
They help you live longer.
Not only do dog owners get to enjoy ample licks and belly rubs, but they also get extra time to enjoy that love. That’s according to one study published in Scientific Reports, which analyzed more than 3.4 million people and found that dog owners who lived alone had a 33 percent reduced risk of death compared to their comrades without canines.
They teach children how to be social.
Teaching children how to socialize at a young age is important for their development. And one study out of University College Dublin found that just being social is enough to alleviate the symptoms of depression, so you can thank your cat or dog for bettering your child’s mental health!
They give you stability.
For folks who struggle with issues like depression or bipolar disorder, having a pet is a huge game changer. In fact, according to one meta-analysis published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, these furry friends are able to give their owners’ lives stability, continuity, and meaning when they need it most.
They can detect serious illnesses even before humans.
Dogs are like the natural oncologists of the animal kingdom. Since cancerous cells excrete different metabolic waste than healthy ones, canines are sometimes capable of detecting the difference in smells between these excretions, even in the early stages of the disease.
They make you more attractive to the opposite sex.
Good news for all the male cat owners out there: According to a survey conducted by the non-profit Cats Protection, more than 90 percent of single women perceived men who favor cats to be nicer, and 82 percent agreed that they found men who love animals to be more attractive.