Benefits of Pet Ownership

If you’ve ever worked with me or spent more than five minutes with me, you likely know the importance I place on my dogs.  Having grown up with multiple four legged pets throughout my childhood, I understand the benefits of sharing my life with these furry companions.  As a child I didn’t know the research behind pet ownership, but what I did know, was that I loved them and enjoyed spending time with them.  Research indicating the benefits to pet ownership has been increasing over the years and strongly supports the positive impacts pets have on our emotional and physical well-being. 

  Some of the physical benefits supported in the research indicate that people who own pets have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  These are important factors when we look at having a healthy heart and lowering the risk of heart attacks.  In fact, pets have been found to better manage high blood pressure because blood pressure has a direct relationship with stress.  ACE inhibitors (a common class of medications used to lower blood pressure) can lower a person’s blood pressure, but they do not account for factors such as stress, which can raise our blood pressure.  Owning a pet has been shown to lower our cortisol levels, which in turn lowers our physiological response to stress.  Our pets can lower the impact our bodies experience when we are feeling anxious or stressed.  In fact, people who own pets and have had a heart attack are more likely to survive longer than those who do not own a pet.  Besides pets being able to change the chemistry in our bodies, they also encourage us to be more active by taking our dogs on walks, playing fetch, and engaging in playful activities with our furry friends.

Pets also offer us a greater sense of playfulness and protectiveness.  Studies have indicated that pet owners experience less anxiety, likely due to the increase in our levels of serotonin and dopamine which are neurotransmitters that have been found to improve our mood.  These neurotransmitters combined with the fact that owning a pet decreases our levels of cortisol, which makes it easier for us to manage stress, strongly support the positive benefits we feel when we have a pet.  Likely these factors help to explain why people who own a pet have been found to experience less feelings of loneliness, a greater sense of safety, better coping skills, and better social development.

So when you are pondering ways to help improve your mood, manage your stress, and live longer; think about pet ownership.  I use animal assisted therapy in my practice as a way to provide my clients with some of these benefits.  When people have a pet in the therapy session with them, can help them feel safer and lower their physiological reactions when processing traumatic events.  If you would like to learn more about engaging in animal assisted therapy or pet ownership, please feel free to contact me!

Trusted Therapy, Inc
Tonya McFarland, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
1030 Johnson Rd, Suite # 280
Golden, CO  80401