The Health Benefits of Pets

Each year, World Animal Day is observed on October 4th. This celebration of the animals we share the planet with dates back as far as 1925, when Heinrich Zimmerman, who published a German animal lovers magazine, organized the very first event in Berlin. Six years later, in 1931, the event went global when the International Animal Protection Congress formally adopted World Animal Day globally.

You can certainly celebrate your favorite wild creatures – wolves, bison, rhinos, kiwis, or even your favorite salamanders – but you can also celebrate a bit closer to home. At home, in fact! Our pets, it seems, are not simply pleasant companions. According to scientists, they can also be good for your health.

Approximately 68% of US households have at least one pet and, for the last decade, scientists have been studying the direct health benefits of keeping pets. While different types of pets can bring differing health benefits, it seems that interacting with animals lowers blood pressure, and also lowers levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). Studies have shown that having a pet also reduces feelings of loneliness, boosts mood, and increases feelings of social support. One study even showed that taking care of a fish helped teens better control their Type 1 Diabetes.

According to Dr. Layla Esposito, who oversees National Institutes of Health’s Human-Animal Interaction Research Program, when it comes to pets – and the benefits they provide – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Someone who wants to increase their physical activity might benefit from taking a dog on regular walks, or a person wanting to increase their level of calm may enjoy watching fish serenely swimming.

Interaction with animals can not only benefit a person’s physical health but mental health as well. Researchers aim to continue to explore the many health effects of having a pet. “We’re trying to find out what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s safe—for both humans and animals,” Esposito says. So, take the time to celebrate your favorite furred, scaled, or feathered friends, and enjoy their presence in your life. It can do you both some good!