The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

30 July 2019

The saying goes that dog is man's best friend, but can having a dog or other type of pet actually help you stay healthy? A variety of studies have shown that there are numerous health benefits of owning a pet. Pets can be a great source of emotional support, too. Here is what a pet can do for your health and well-being:

Physical Benefits

You may tell yourself you're going to take a walk every day, but it's a different story when a certain four-legged someone you love depends on you. Daily exercise is one of the health benefits of pets, particularly if your pet is a dog.

This study published in The Gerontologist looked at the "associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults." The authors found an association between owning a dog and physical activity in older adults, using data on "human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits and health outcomes of the participants." In other words, the dog was a positive influence on getting their elderly owner to be more physically active, which helps take off excess pounds and eases the pain of arthritis — but that's not all. Studies have shown that pets can also help lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol and may even positively influence childhood development.

Emotional Benefits

The health benefits of owning a pet also include emotional support. Pets can lower your stress, boost your mood and even help you have a better social life, which can also make you happier. They can also provide support for those managing challenging mental health conditions.

Best Pets for Emotional Support

According to Emotional Pet Support, an organization that provides prescription letters written by licensed mental health professionals, the top dog breeds for emotional support are:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Poodles
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Beagles
  • Corgis
  • Pugs
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Pomeranian
  • Golden Retrievers

However, according to the American Kennel Club, qualified Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not the same as service animals that physically guide and assist people who are blind, deaf, hard of hearing or physically disabled. ESAs don't have to be any particular breed, or even a dog for that matter. They can be any common domestic animal (including cats and ferrets, too). However, they must be toilet trained and cannot be a nuisance or dangerous to those around you. The bottom line is, the best ESA is going to be mellow, well-behaved, easy-going and well-trained — a pet that calms you down and doesn't stress you out.

Emotional Support Pets at Work

The health benefits of pets are so clear that some companies, like Amazon in Seattle, even have pet-friendly policies that allow employees to bring their dogs to the office. According to Time magazine, last year, 8% of workplaces in the U.S. allowed employees to bring their dogs to work, a 5% increase since 2013. These policies vary from office to office and may include provisions that can exclude pets that are aggressive, ill-mannered, noisy or otherwise disruptive. They may also include rules such as no-dog-zones in certain parts of the office and the use of air purifiers to keep allergens at bay. For many, an office friendly dog policy is a big draw that helps recruit and keep good talent. And it can keep that talent healthier and happier at work, too.