Research suggests that pets may help to decrease stress levels, bring a sense of well being and contribute to overall improved health in their owners. In short, pets improve both mental and physical health.
Multiple studies have been done, researching the impact of a pet on the lives of their owners. One study found that pet owners had lower blood pressure and stress reactive behaviours than their pet free counterparts. This was the result of a study where participants completed stress inducing tasks, with either a pet or friend as support. It was found that the pet owners in the study experienced lower stress and anxiety levels, indicating that animals provide a level of support which is better for stress relief than that of a close friend.
A further study introduced dogs to normal conditions where participants were in an unstressed state. It was found that petting the dog, further reduced blood pressure in the participants, even though they were starting from their non-stressed normal blood pressure level.
Lowering your stress and blood pressure levels of course has a positive knock on effect on cardiovascular health. Dog and cat ownership has been found to decrease the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. The study on cats found that the risk of death due to myocardial infarctions or stroke was reduced in cat owners, and the study on dogs showed lower cholesterol levels in their owners.
Owning a cat or dog brings routine based on their care needs, a routine which can often help people with depression. Dogs in particular, with their exercise needs, force owners to go outside every day and participate in mild exercise, which is often linked to mental health.
Pets bring companionship and love, enriching their owners lives and stopping them from feeling lonely or isolated. In this way and in routine, pets may further help to alleviate symptoms of depression or alleviate an overall low mood.