Department of Psychiatry
Penn Behavioral Health
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Newsletter: May 2014

The Benefits of Pet Owndership
Robyn Yackulich, MS

 

Throughout history, animals have played a significant role in human life – they were relied on for food, clothes, and transportation. In some civilizations animals were even glorified as religious deities. Over the last several centuries we have seen an evolution in the role of animals, primarily the increase in the number of animals – typically dogs and cats – that are being kept as domestic pets. While it is known that there are numerous responsibilities associated with having a pet, pet ownership in the United States has more than tripled in the last forty years. A survey in 2012 found that about two-thirds of American households have at least one pet, the majority of whom are regarded as valued family members. For what reasons would so many people want to assume the responsibility of owning a pet?

 

Pets can improve your mood and psychological well-being

Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than people without pets. People with limited human social supports often experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, both of which can worsen depression. A pet helps to decrease these feelings by providing companionship to its owner. Additionally, having a pet can also help to improve a person’s social interactions with people by acting as a social catalyst and conversation “ice breaker."  

 

Pets can also help decrease anxiety and stress. The presence of a pet can lower your physiological response to stress. Studies have shown that simply petting a dog or cat can raise levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, three chemicals in your brain that help you to feel calmer and more relaxed.

 

The psychological benefits of interacting with animals have helped make animal-assisted therapies more popular. Research suggests that the use of animal-assisted interventions, such as therapy dogs, significantly reduces depressive symptoms in the elderly. Therapy dogs have also been shown to increase social interaction in children with autism as well as in adult psychiatric inpatients. 

 

Pets can help you live a longer life

In addition to improving your psychological state, research has show that pet ownership also has physical health benefits. Pet owners are more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements than non-owners. Taking the dog for a walk, riding a horse, chasing a kitten or rabbit are all ways in which owning a pet can help increase physical exercise.

 

Numerous studies have shown that pets also help improve cardiovascular health. Pet owners were found to have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners, and lower blood pressure in stressful situations. Research has also shown that heart attack patients who own pets survive longer than those patients without pets.

 

While there are benefits to pets, it is important to keep in mind that owning a pet is not for everyone. If you are not an “animal person,” it is unlikely that having a pet will help improve your life. Having a pet is not a miracle cure for psychological or physical illness. For people who are unsure whether they are ready to commit to full-time pet ownership, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or temporarily fostering animals awaiting adoption. Even short periods of time with an animal can be beneficial to both you and the animal.

 

References

 

Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial

and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible

role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234

 

Brown, C.M., McConnell, A.R., Martin, C.E., Shoda, T.M., & Stayton, L.E. (2011). 

Friend with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1239-1252. doi: 10.1037/a0024506

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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