Laughter, Joy, Health: Benefits of Pet Ownership

May is National Pet Month, a time for us to appreciate all the good things pets bring to our lives, and a time for us to reward them for all their love, affection, and loyalty. Numerous studies have confirmed what pet owners already know: Pets enrich our lives in innumerable ways: everything from boosting our emotional health to even easing physical pain.

Stroke prevention: Cat owners are 40 percent less likely to have a stroke than people who do not own cats.

No depression: Playing with a dog elevates serotonin and dopamine levels for a pleasant and calming effect. People who own pets also tend to laugh more. In a very poignant example, Walter Reed Medical Center is now using therapy dogs to help soldiers deal with PTSD. Having a dog to love and care for has lowered the suicide rate among soldiers participating in the program.

Allergy fighters: Many now famous studies have shown that kids who live in a house with pets tend to develop fewer allergies than kids growing up pet free. “Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system,” said James E. Gern, MD.

Walking: A three-year study of dog owners in 32 neighborhoods found that dog walkers were more likely to get enough moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) than those without dogs. Dog walkers had only a 17 percent obesity rate compared with a 28 percent obesity rate in society at large.

Stress: People performing stressful tasks experienced less stress when they had a pet around than when in the presence of friends or family.

Heart health: Among heart attack survivors, pet owners outlive those who do not own pets. Also, men who own pets tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than men who do not own pets.

Socializing: It’s not always easy to strike up conversations with new people, but walking a dog can certainly help break the ice. A Canadian study found that pet owners “were more socially engaged” than people who did not own pets.

Doggie detectors: Dogs and cats that live with diabetics have demonstrated an ability to detect when their owner’s blood sugar level drops. This behavior has prompted the organization Dogs4Diabetics to train dogs as companions for people with unstable glucose levels.