8 Ways Caring For a Pet Improves Physical and Mental Health
Helping patients maintain and restore their health is vital for Epic Care’s mission. Our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals across the East Bay Area strive to find the best treatments and other resources to fulfill this goal. But they also know the value that non-traditional paths can have in helping patients stay healthy — like having a pet, for example. Pets improve mental health, physical health and much more.
Here is a closer look at eight ways caring for a pet can improve your health.
1. Reduce anxiety
When patients feel symptoms such as stress, anxiety, or depression, pets better mental health through emotional support. “Research shows that pets can help reduce negative feelings,” Megan Mueller, co-director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction, told CNN. This might involve getting out in the fresh air and playing fetch with your dog or watching fish swim around a tank.
Psychologist Harold Herzog, a professor at Western Carolina University, agreed that pets encourage better mental health. He noted that “studies have shown repeatedly that people’s good mood increases and bad mood decrease around pets.”
2. Improve heart health
Dog owners, in particular, may notice benefits to their cardiovascular health. A review of 70 years of research involving 4 million people from around the world, including the United States, showed that having a dog “was associated with a 24% reduction in all-cause mortality.”
According to Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist and lead author of the study, the analysis showed that people who had heart attacks or strokes also benefited from dog ownership. According to CNN, they were 31% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
Why might dogs be so beneficial? Those daily walks encourage exercise. According to a study published by the American Heart Association (AHA), an analysis of 11 studies showed that dog owners were more physically active than people who didn’t own dogs. Cats, too, can be beneficial. The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found that “people without cats have a 40% higher relative risk of heart attack than non‑cat owners.”
Dr. Sonja Rosen, a Cedars-Sinai geriatrician, explains that “loneliness has been linked to earlier death and poor health outcomes. The companionship a pet provides can be really valuable.” Studies show that older people who adopt an animal may find that it eases loneliness and improves their mood. Dogs may “reduce social isolation. Furthermore, dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of depression,” noted another study published by the AHA.
Additionally, the Mental Health Foundation explained that pets have better mental health because they “can be great listeners, offer unconditional love and won’t criticize you,” which “can help your self-confidence, especially if you feel isolated or misunderstood.” According to Cedars-Sinai, certain studies also have “shown a positive correlation between pets and reduced symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”
4. Weight loss support
When people want to lose weight, they sometimes turn to support groups to help them in their journey. Whether through sharing recipes or personal experiences or participating in group activities, such groups can help make a weight-loss journey easier.
Unsurprisingly, so can pets. According to a study, “animals can provide social support, and having a pet “may strengthen engagement in a weight loss program by encouraging and motivating and reducing perceived emotional barriers.”
5. Improve mental health
In addition to lowering anxiety, pet ownership can benefit other parts of a person’s mental health, including depression. Some pets have a knack for noticing when their owner feels sad or upset, an intuition that “makes them great support and therapy animals,” according to One Health.
Animal-assisted therapy may involve having an animal visit a patient, which can “have mental, emotional and social benefits and can effectively treat depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder,” One Health noted.
Caring for a pet adds structure to a person’s life. According to the Mental Health Foundation, the daily routine of feeding and exercising an animal “can help you feel more grounded and focused” and “can give your day purpose and a sense of achievement.”
6. Prevent allergies
Raising children around furry friends may reduce their risk of developing allergies or asthma. People used to think that having pets in a home was a no-no for families prone to allergies, but such studies show that having furry pets, or even farm animals, actually can help children. They found that babies who lived in homes with dogs were less likely to have pet allergies or develop eczema. They also showed signs of having stronger immune systems.
7. Better social skills
Put simply, a pet can be a conversation starter.
Not everyone is a social butterfly. Sometimes people need help when it comes to socializing — especially after two years of isolation thanks to COVID-19. That’s where pets can come in. Taking an animal out into the world can help “ease people out of social isolation or shyness,” Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., told WebMD.
8. Boost your happiness
Spending time with a pet, indoors or out, can release those all-important neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals your body naturally produces can help calm and relax you, thereby improving your mood and helping you feel better overall.
“If the activities we’re doing include the opportunity to bond with others — or even with our pets, the release of another brain chemical, oxytocin, also helps us to feel good,” noted AXA Health. “These feel-good activities ultimately help us access optimistic mindsets.”
Find out more ways to heal
To find out what other therapies, medical services, and treatments are available to you in your community, contact us at Epic Care. Call (925) 255-1066 or visit epic-care.com to set up a consultation today.