For many people, owning a pet is more than just having a furry friend to cuddle with. In fact, there are numerous benefits to adopting a pet that go beyond the companionship they provide. From improving mental health to boosting physical activity levels, pets have been shown to have a positive impact on their owners' well-being. In this article, we'll explore some of the top advantages of adopting a pet and why it may be worth considering adding a furry companion to your household.
Immediate Physical Health Benefits
Adopting pets include lower blood pressure, decrease heart attacks, decrease doctor visits, better sleep and overall improved livelihood.
The presence of animals has a significant impact on blood pressure, with pet owners having lower resting blood pressure than people without pets. Studies have found that being around animals can decrease levels of cortisol (a hormone activated by stress). In fact, even watching fish in an aquarium can reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate. A study of over 2,400 cat owners concluded there was a significantly lower risk for death due to cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and heart attack, compared to non-owners during a 20-year follow-up. (It’s unclear whether the cat’s calming effects make the difference or whether people who choose cats as pets are less at risk for heart disease to begin with.)
Pets help patients with pain management. Results of a study which examined the impact of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) on patients with chronic pain showed that they responded better to treatments and reported improvements in their quality of life (including reduced pain, discomfort, and stress).
People with diabetes who have unexpected changes in their blood sugar could get a life-saving benefit from having a dog. There are specially trained dogs who have been taught to detect drops in blood sugar. When they smell a change, they alert the person before it becomes dangerous.
For Dog Owners
Dog owners get more physical activity than people without dogs because dogs must be walked and exercised; and since dog owners are more likely to meet the criteria for regular moderate exercise, they also have lower instances of obesity. A recent analysis of nearly 4 million people in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom found dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in dying from any cause. Still another large study found that people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after suffering a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke and the benefit was highest for dog owners who lived alone. Heart attack survivors living alone who owned a dog had a 33% lower risk of death compared to survivors who did not own a dog; and stroke survivors living alone who owned a dog had a 27% reduced risk of death.
A seven-year study of almost 500 children found that children who were exposed to dogs and cats as babies were half as likely to have allergies and risk factors for asthma than those who had no pets. Infants with more than one pet in the home had the lowest risk of allergies. Also, on the topic of allergies, up to 30% of people who are allergic to dogs are actually allergic to one protein that is made in the prostate of a dog, so they won’t have reactions in the presence of female or neutered male dogs. (A reliable blood test for the allergen was recently approved by the FDA.)
Mental Health Benefits
The mental health advantages of adopting a pet include less loneliness, better psychological well-being, lower rates of depression and stress levels and increased self esteem
Money CAN buy happiness!
People who say money can’t buy happiness have never paid an adoption fee. You’ve probably noticed that your pets can make you smile when you’re feeling down, and studies have shown repeatedly that a person’s good mood increases, and bad mood decreases around pets. A pet does not care if you are rich or poor, smart or dumb. They give us affection and we give it back and we are all changed for the better.
Even those who are suffering with diagnosed depression can reap mood-lifting benefits from pets. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders because pets can positively affect depression in many ways. A pet requires its owner to remain active and can help him or her feel less isolated from society. A pet remains a trusted companion, even when its owner withdraws from friends and family. There is also research showing that having a pet with you during an anxious event can help reduce the stress of that event.
Caring for a cat forces you into a routine
Then there is the practical work that comes with caring for a pet. This means making sure their individual needs are met. Developing a daily routine of feeding times and walks or play times can help pet parents feel a sense of purpose that affects other areas of their lives.
Healing for folks who suffer isolation and depression
Research has shown that older adults who live alone get social and emotional support from their pets that combat loneliness and depression. A study of older adults with mental illness living in long-term care facilities concluded that AAT reduced depressive symptoms and improved cognitive function. They also assisted in the treatment of long-term diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia by promoting exercise and reducing stress.
Pets were found to contribute to a stronger sense of identity in pet owners with mental health conditions, including reducing negative perceptions of a mental health condition or diagnosis. They provide a sense of security and routine in the relationship, which reinforces stable cognition. They provide a distraction and disruption from distressing symptoms, such as hearing voices, suicidal thoughts, rumination; and facilitate routine and exercise for those who care for them. You may have noticed that your pet wastes no time noticing and springing into action when you are upset or sad. Their intuition is what makes them particularly effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
Healing for folks who suffer ADHD
A 2015 study found children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who read to real animals showed more improvements in sharing, cooperation, volunteering, and behavioral problems than ADHD children who read to a stuffed animal. Another study found autistic children were calmer and interacted more when in the presence of guinea pigs than they did with toys.
Caveats and risks you should consider
The American Heart Association recommends against getting a pet for the primary purpose of reducing cardiovascular risk. The Whiskers, Paws, and Love team wholeheartedly agrees. Pet ownership is a caring commitment that comes with responsibilities and financial costs for the lifetime of the animal.
It also isn’t a good idea to give a pet as a gift. The gift recipient might not have the ability to care for a pet responsibly and it may not fit into their lifestyle in the long term. If a friend or relative is going through a rough time and you believe a pet might be helpful, a better course of action than gifting would be to visit him or her with your pet.
Once you have made the decision to expand your family and add a pet, we strongly recommend that you adopt rather than purchase from a breeder for the following reasons:
1. There are too many companion animals and too few people consider adoption when looking for a pet.
As a result, there are many more animals entering shelters than there are people willing to give them a home. On average, 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized every year (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). Forty-five percent of all cats who enter shelters end up being euthanized. When you adopt, you are saving the life of that animal, as well as freeing up much-needed space for another animal. Therefore, you are potentially saving two lives. Rescues include young, healthy, beautiful, purebred animals that have been abandoned through no fault of their own. Most of them were thrown away by the owners they loved and trusted simply because they became an inconvenience. Remember that ‘rescued’ does not mean ‘damaged’ - it means that they have been let down by humans.
2. You can find your ideal pet at a shelter or rescue group assuming you are willing to take the time to look.
Dogs and cats and rabbits and ferrets and guinea pigs go in and out of shelters daily. Most of the dogs in shelters are actually expensive bred animals that people adopted for the wrong reasons (as a status symbol, to look cool or to brag to their friends); and soon after they’re purchased many of them end up abandoned in a shelter because the people who bought them didn’t understand, or care, that they needed love,attention, and stimulation. Most people cannot tell the difference between a $300 dog and a $3000 dog.
3. Of course, all cats are naturally litter box trained, but all dogs are not potty trained.
Puppies are a lot of work, just like a human baby. Their sole purpose is to poop, pee and chew all over your home; and they need to be fed multiple times a day and taken out at all hours. By adopting an older rescue dog who is past the puppy nipping and training years, you can avoid all that hassle.
4. Adoption fees are considerably lower than breeder fees.
You can adopt an expensive dog or cat that was left behind and has already been spayed/neutered and vaccinated, which is yet another substantial savings. Puppies from breeders will need multiple vet checks and vaccinations during their first year of life. In addition to this expense, you would need to cover the cost of sterilization. This means that if you purchased a puppy from a breeder, you would likely pay much higher costs just getting it to adulthood.
Comments from pet adopters whose lives were changed for the better:
“Bandit (my big boy) continues to thrive in our house as he has quickly become my other ‘son.’ He finally slept in his cat bed, but it had to be on a bed first! He still prefers to sleep with my twins in their room, but his favorite napping spot is next to me on our ottoman chair. He has found ways to communicate with us: tapping the blinds to let us know he wants to look out the window, meowing very loudly when he is upset or hungry, and purring like a race car when he's happy. My oldest says he runs to sit by the garage door when he hears my car pull in, and I am the only one who can carry him around for extended periods. The kids are super helpful with feeding, but litter box duty is still all me. He is quite fond of watching the starlings in the backyard and watching my twins get on and off the bus from the front window. Thank you for rescuing Bandit! He is such a perfect addition to our family, and I can't imagine my life without him!”
“Who rescued who? Leo is the sweetest, bestest, smiliest, sensitivist, loviest pup on the planet. He had been un-adopted or fostered for almost 6 months! He was a hurricane survivor and ended up without a home like so many thousands of other animals.”
“I now know why dogs are called man's best friend. One Spring day back in April 2014 I decided that it was time stop talking about getting a pup and make it a reality. As I headed back to the rooms of the shelter where the dogs were kenneled, I was barked at by all but one dog.This one particular dog was curled up on top of a mini trampoline and didn't even flinch as I walked by.I figured she'd be a good fit for me to ride around in the truck every day seeing as she was pretty docile and didn't have much to say. Long story short, that little pup curled up on her mini elevated bed was super sad like I had been, and within days of getting her home she livened up and we were both on the road to recovery. That little pups name is Daisy,she's my world and my best friend.”
“I adopted a dog in January 2018 and couldn't be any happier. She was exhibiting some timid behavior in the shelter (she was a stray, no idea of her background) and the shelter staff let me know this and also what to expect as a result/how to handle her timid behavior (i.e. go slow). The shelter staff gave me all of the information I needed to care for her right away, including special instructions post-spay. The price was definitely right, to boot. Spay, microchip, license, rabies, adoption all included in the very reasonable adoption fee.”
“We are thrilled we picked the perfect dog for us almost one year ago. We had the opportunity to spend some time with him at the shelter. We tested his reaction to us, other people, and other animals. He's brought so much joy to our home! He is loving and sure gets it in return.”
“I found my current canine companion at a shelter. She is an old mutt, and so ugly she's beautiful, but she's mine and I'm hers, and we are one!”
“Simba and Luna are really great cats. They settled in quickly and are each very sweet, friendly, and beautiful. They want to be with us most of the time. I have to close the door to my office when in meetings, or they are constantly jumping up on me. All signs indicate that they are perfectly comfortable here. They are doing all of the things that healthy cats should be doing, each a little differently based on their personalities. They have completely different personalities. Simba is extremely social all of the time and loves to cuddle. He follows us around and jumps on our laps. He kisses our faces and purrs loudly. Luna is still a bit timid, but she likes to carry the stick, bell, string and feather toy with her and she enjoys playing fetch. She is also the most curious. She has inspected every inch of space she is allowed in. They are very bonded. They don’t spend much time apart, if one of them is exploring, the other one starts calling out and they soon meet up again. They groom each other and sleep together and chase each other. It is so wonderful to see happy life in the house!”
“I adopted my dog from the shelter over a year ago and I couldn't be happier with him. They had him for just over two weeks after finding him as a stray. Granted, most of the credit for how sweet he is has to go to his previous owners (whoever they were) and him, but the shelter had to be pretty good for him to not have ANY quirks.I kept waiting to find something that spooked him, or rubbed him the wrong way from being in a shelter, and I still have not found a thing. He, also, could not be any better with my cats.”
“We had a great experience adopting a dog last week. The staff was friendly and helpful, even on a busy Saturday morning. The paperwork was completed quickly. I was amazed at the selection of dogs! All sizes, types, purebreds and mutts. We found the dog we wanted and she is happy in her forever home. I am very happy with the experience we had. One disadvantage: sometimes you can't take your new pet home with you until it is neutered. This is important so we don't bring more homeless animals into the world, so it's a good thing.”
“I have happily told many people where I got my dog. I hope that seeing a wonderful companion like him will cause more people to rescue animals from shelters. I get SO many complements on how ‘good looking’ and sweet he is.”
Owning a pet offers a variety of benefits that extend beyond just companionship. So, what are you waiting for? Go down to your local rescue organization and consider rescuing a furry friend today!