Are pets good for our health?

Sitting in my dorm today, I received a text from my mom. Upon opening it, I saw that it was a cute picture of my dog with her leash on and the message below read, “I need a walk, Sarah!” As my job at home is walking my dog, a Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix, I felt a little sad and homesick. I know my two younger brothers aren’t taking as good of care of my dog as I would if I were home. The thought was a little frustrating. However, the question for my next blog topic came to me. Do pets increase our happiness and therefore our health? Is there anything about having a pet that makes your life intrinsically better?

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  finds that because pets give their owners some form of socialization, it at the very least increases their levels of happiness, which in turn improves their health. A Psychology Today article also summarized a few other studies performed, which all boiled down to the answer that, yes, pets are capable of giving their owners a great outlet for socialization. They don’t exactly replace the positives that come from actual human relationships, but pet owners have been shown to have higher self esteem and be less lonely. But does the happiness these pets provide translate to better overall health?

University of Sydney researchers seem to think so. They are in the midst of a study on this exact topic, trying to determine if dog owners live longer and are at a lower risk of heart disease and depression. Another study plans to test pet owner’s level of oxytocin upon seeing their pet. Although neither of these studies have been concluded, I found it interesting that many scientists have the same hypothesis as me and I will be sure to check up on these studies after they are resolved. However, in my research a possible confounding variable did strike me. Perhaps dog owners have lower levels of heart disease and depression because they’re forced to exercise due to having a dog in the first place.

A study performed by the American Heart Association confirmed my confounding variable idea, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. They found because of the exercise that comes with owning a dog, there seems to be a correlation between pet ownership and lower cholesterol, heart rate, and blood pressure. To be fair, as this article mentions, pets are not a cure for these issues, but they do have great potential to assist you in living a healthy life.

So there have been many conclusive studies that prove that at the very least, the amount of exercise that comes from owning a pet and the companionship they offer can lead to better health. Pets may not be a cure-all, but they’re certainly something to considering owning if you’re lonely or stressed and have the time and money to care for them. That question was resolved, but unfortunately all this research just made me miss my dog more.

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9 thoughts on “Are pets good for our health?

  1. Summer A Carson

    I love dogs and this post! I remember reading not too long ago about how a dog had the ability to calm down his owner who had severe outbreaks of aspergers. A video of a dog helping his owner with aspergers went viral and I suggest you check it out This is a first hand example of how animals have the power to help us relax and promote good health. If you google “Therapy Dog” a billion results come up of resources and examples of how dogs help people today! For example, many hospitals have implemented dog therapy to help patients with various diseases bring a little sunshine into their day.

    PS. I also have a Cocker Spaniel!

  2. Salvatore Mattioli

    Great points. I took an Animal Science class last year and learned about almost all of these benefits of pet ownership. Aside from general happiness and companionship, pet owners also tend to have a better overall sense of responsibility compared to those who never had pets. Feeding, walking, and training a pet can be draining at times, especially when you have many other obligations. However, these responsibilities are nothing compared to the sense of achievement and happiness that comes with pet ownership. I think it is safe to say there are an overwhelming amount of benefits that exist pet ownership. This article supports my viewpoint by stating the many ways pet ownership teaches kids responsibility.

  3. sbm5465

    I’m a firm believer that dogs, or any pet really, can improve your health! Before I decided to come to Penn State, I was touring another college, Emerson College to be exact, and they had “resident therapy dog”. I was intrigued by this. Apparently students that visit the health center for psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, or even those struggling with homesickness, could have time with the dog as part of their treatment. It helped relieve stress and lighten their mood. Like you said, the pet alone probably wasn’t a cure-all to theses students’ problems, but it was one form of treatment that seemed to work pretty well. I wonder if this is a common form of therapy at other institutions as well. If Penn State doesn’t already have a resident therapy dog, I’d definitely be interested in getting one here.

  4. Xander Roker

    This is a great post! The correlation between having pets and being healthy does not necessarily need to be a direct causation, as you noted, because if having a pet leads to healthy daily practices that then make us more healthy, getting a pet is still beneficial. My most recent blog post was about how laughing is a legitimate way to keep us healthy by helping us psychologically and boosting our immune system, and your post is along those same lines I think. Check out these two sites:

  5. Candace Burke

    I definitely think a dog or pet can improve your health. I feel like generally people are healthier when they are happier, and pets bring that unconditional love that can make a person happy all the time. I know with my dog, when I am upset or stressed in my room, my dog will voluntarily come into my room and sit on my bed with me. That just instantly makes me feel happier. The fact that dogs can sense illness and sadness makes me definitely think that a dog can improve a person’s health.

  6. Olivia Frederickson

    This blog really struck me with my sadness about missing my dog back at home. I really do believe having a pet of any preference can help aid with social needs and therefore creating an involved emotional relationship. Your research was very well conducted in my opinion, and you even provide the evidence and information behind a possible third confounding variable making your post even more on par. At first you had correlated being happy with being healthy which kind of confused me but you continued to make these two things very relevant to each other and the topic. It also makes me wonder, in general, the actual science behind this correlation and if it’s possibly true. In this article ( the author gives evidence to how happiness can be good for your health which gives a whole other notion behind how pets are good for our health in a broader sense.

  7. jcr5533

    Dogs are fantastic! So much stress is relieved when I see a doggo. I know a lot of universities have activities where they let students play with dogs to relieve stress. If Penn State has one, someone let me know, and if we don’t then I will make a club that lets students play with dogs.

  8. Andie Lynn Sullivan

    I found this interesting because even though I don’t have a dog myself, I can definitely see how they provide comfort in stressful times. This proves to be true during finals week when there are dogs outside of the health center to help calm down stressed out college students. This article looks further into how dogs help relieve stress, especially during finals week.

  9. Amily Zhuang

    My dog is definitely my best friend. I am one of those who will facetime my mom just so I can talk to my dog. He is a shih tzu/bichon frise mix and the mix is referred to as “Teddybear” but his name is Oreo for his fur coat.

    He is definitely one of those high maintenance dogs that needs to be walked at least 3 times a day and one of those is usually him walking me. His walks usually are a mile long so I definitely believe that it increases exercise and health for humans. He truly does bring joy to the family and makes us feel safe (even though he is a small dog.)

    Reading this post actually made me really miss my dog. Glad to hear that there is science being done to see if pets truly do bring benefits to our health!!

    Here is a link
    on heroic dogs that actually saved lives that I think you’d enjoy reading.

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