Health benefits

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166 million European households have a pet. As this figure grows, so too does their role in people’s lives. Pets provide companionship, affection and protection and unique bonds are formed with owners.

There are over 352 million pets in Europe and around 166 million European households have a pet.  As this figure grows, so too does their role in people’s lives. Pets provide companionship, affection and protection and unique bonds are formed with owners. In addition to being a source of love and friendship, there have been numerous scientific studies analysing the many ways in which pets are good for our health.

One of the more obvious health benefits of owning a pet is exercise – dog walking or playing with a cat are great ways to stay active. However, in addition to supporting good physical health, contact with animals is proven to encourage physiological and psychological benefits: reducing stress, helping to prevent illness and allergies, lowering blood pressure, aiding recovery and boosting chances of survival after a life-threatening illness.

As part of a wider role, FEDIAF members fully support research into the human companion animal bond and below is more information about some of these studies:

Pets alleviate loneliness

Pets help reduce depression

  • Research Reveals Owning a Pet Dog Could Prevent Suicide in Autistic Adults. University of Lincoln, December 2021 
  • A study of 140 pet owners and the same number of non-pet owners in Bangladesh found that pet owners were 41% less depressed than non-pet owners. National Library of Medicine, September 2021.
  • Research suggests that pets can be protective against suicide in some older persons’ lives. Anthrozoös, 2020
  • Dog-assisted therapy has proved to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression in institutionalized elderly as the dog acts as a facilitator of social interaction, eliciting positive emotional responses. Psychogeriatrics, 2019
  • Research indicates that cat owners report less depressive symptoms than dog owners.  There were no significant differences in levels of loneliness. Journal of Mind and Medical Sciences, 2017
  • Research shows that cats reduce symptoms of depression more than dogs, but they are both essential in the fight against loneliness. Aging & Mental Health, 2015
  • A case study revealed the benefits of animal-assisted therapy as a complementary treatment for patients with Bipolar I disorder and atypical depression. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 2008
  • Research among 144 older people in a home for the aged showed that taking care of a pet bird reduces depression. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 2006
  • If you’re in a bad mood, it’s true that cats cheer you up. Big survey of over 600 adults says so! Anthrozoos, 2003

Pets reduce stress & anxiety

Pets encourage social interaction

  • A study review detected that there was a link between pet ownership and reduced social isolation.  The value of pet ownership in terms of loneliness was strengthened during the Covid 19 pandemic. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, July 2022. 
  • A study of 2600 pet owners across Australian and US cities confirmed that pet owners were significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighbourhood than non-pet owners.   The University of Western Australia, 2017.
  • Survey of 1800 is more evidence that social interactions are facilitated by the presence of a dog. Anthrozoos, 2015
  • Proof that walking the dog helps us make friends. Research among 80 adult strangers showed that the presence of a dog encouraged friendly behaviour when pet owner asked for help. Anthrozoos, 2008
  • Interesting and thought provoking research over 15 years ago showed the benefits of human animal interaction among adult prison inmates.  Prisoners gained more social skills and were less likely to get into trouble! American Psychological Association, 2007

Pets help those with more specific conditions & traumatic events

  • Study of over 11,000 owners suggests dog ownership has a suppressive effect on incident disabling dementia over a 4-year follow-up period. Science Direct, December 2023.
  • Study of almost 8000 adults over 50 linked pet ownership with slower rates of decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency among individuals living alone. JAMA Network, December 2023.
  • Author reviews research and supports the more widespread use of AATs in cancer treatment centres.  Concludes that animal assisted therapy improves patient’s emotional well-being and supports the more widespread use of AAT in cancer treatment centres though it is noted that this modality does not suit all patients. Science Direct, August 2021.
  • Dogs were reported as an important source of social support during the COVID-19 lockdown. Frontiers in Psychiatry, April 2021.
  • Research highlights the benefits of integrating Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to help human sex trafficking survivors heal and repair their trauma bonds. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 2021
  • People with chronic pain reported that pets improve their lives by providing comfort, relaxing them, promoting activity, lessening pain, fostering hope, and improving mood. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2020
  • A study in Italy showed that people with Alzheimer’s receiving animal-assisted therapy showed an improvement in both cognitive function and mood. Animals, 2020
  • During the COVID-19 lockdown, people engaged in more interactions with their pets and received increased emotional support from them. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2020.
  • Research shows that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) may work as a beneficial and effective complementary treatment, especially in behavioural and psychological symptoms, for patients with different degrees of dementia severity. BMC Pshychiatry, 2019
  • Recent research has demonstrated that trained dogs are clearly able to discriminate the seizure odours of patients experiencing seizures. Scientific Reports, 2019
  • A British study found out that there are numerous positive effects that a running guide dog has on the health, independence, and quality of life of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 2019
  • Research highlights dog-assisted therapy’s effectiveness in reducing behavioural problems, anxiety, and hyperactivity in Down Syndrome patients. Journal of Applied Research and Intellectual Disabilities, 2019
  • A review of studies looking at the benefits of companion animals for people living with mental health problems concluded that pets provide benefits. BMC Psychiatry, February 2018.
  • Research shows that hippotherapy, coupled with traditional therapy, can significantly improve balance, fatigue, spasticity, and quality of life in multiple sclerosis patients. Multiple Sclerosis, 2018
  • A four-month-long study at Vanderbilt University in Nashville provided children access to therapy just before undergoing cancer treatment. There was a significant drop in parenting anxiety over their child’s pain and ability to cope. Journal of Paediatric Oncology Nursing, 2017.
  • Research highlights that cat-assisted therapy, involving petting and grooming the animal, helps Parkinson’s patients control hand tremors. Polish Annals of Medicine, 2017
  • Dog ownership can be associated with a higher level of physical activity among patients with end-stage kidney disease on chronic hemodialysis. Hemodialysis International, 2016
  • Animal Assisted Therapy seems to be a useful adjunct to conventional psychosocial rehabilitation for patients with schizophrenia. Frontiers in Psychology, 2016.
  • A scientific study highlights that thanks to animal-assisted therapy, cancer patients experienced increased calm and feelings of anticipation toward participation in counselling, alleviating feelings of anxiety and distress. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 2015
  • Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has been proven beneficial as a complementary treatment intervention in palliative care settings. OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 2013
  • Exercising in later life can be a challenge but one solution may be a dog. According to a 2017 study, older adults with dogs get an average of 22 additional minutes of walking per day, likely improving their health. BMC Public Health, 2017
  • A massive survey among 10969 adults was fabulous proof that pet interaction ‘keeps the doctor away’!  Pet owners make about 15% fewer annual doctor visits than non-owners. Social Indicators Research, 2007
  • The use of a guide dog renders the need for human assistance unnecessary in many cases, allowing enhanced freedom for their owner. Visual Impairment Research, 2005
  • Research suggests that by enhancing companionship for some HIV-infected persons, pets may buffer the stressful impact of AIDS. AIDS Care, 1999

Pets improve cardiovascular health

  • Massive survey of 10,905 people in the US links pet ownership (especially dogs) to increase physical activity, social support and improved outcomes after major cardiovascular events.  American Journal of Cardiology, 2020
  • A systematic review of 70 years of global research concluded that having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause (with reference that this may be driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality).
  • Dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in all causes of mortality. American Heart Association: Circulation, October 2019.
  • A study of 321 430 Swedish adults aged 40 to 85, dog ownership was associated with a lower risk of death after an acute myocardial infarction. American Heart Association: Circulation, October 2019.
  • Owning a dog cuts risk of heart attacks and other fatal diseases. The Guardian, 2017

Pets help lower blood pressure

  • Pet ownership has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, likely related to antihypertensive and cardioprotective mechanisms. Springer Hypertension Report, April 2022.
  • Research indicates that having pets may reduce the risk of developing hypertension and improve blood pressure control in patients with established hypertension. Public Health Challenges, 2022
  • Research shows people with pets have lower heart rate and blood pressure than non-pet owners plus faster recovery when pets are present. Psychosomatic Medicine, October 2002
  • Study looked at the effect of pet ownership on stress before and during ACE inhibitor therapy.  The study concluded that ACE inhibitor therapy alone lowers blood pressure but pet companionship lowers blood pressure response to mental stress. Clinical Trial, 2001
  • This study looked at women’s blood pressure and stress levels when in the presence of a friend and also in the presence of a pet dog. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, October 1991

Pets can help prevent allergies

Pets help us get more exercise

Pets help our health generally, saving health service money

  • Pets estimated to save UK National Health Service up to £2.45billion a year. CABI, December 2016
  • Pet owners visit physicians less according to research conducted by George Mason University in the US, with significant cost savings. HABRI Foundation, 2015
  • A massive survey among 10969 adults was fabulous proof that pet interaction ‘keeps the doctor away’!  Pet owners make about 15% fewer annual doctor visits than non-owners. Social Indicators Research, 2007

Pets have a therapeutic impact on children and adolescents – both in and out of the classroom

  • A study of 253 UK primary school teachers confirmed that teachers were very positive about children reading to dogs. Educational Research, August 2021.
  • Interactions with dogs boosted children’s positive emotions and reduced anxiety.  J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol, August 2020
  • A huge study of 31,453 children in Japan – with 36% owning a pet – confirmed that pet ownership was associated with better emotional expression in later childhood. International Journal of Environmental Res Public Health, 2019
  • An animal visitation programme reduced cortisol levels of university students, resulting in lowering stress levels. American Educational Research Association, June 2019.
  • The results of a study among children aged 6-9 years old suggest that the presence of a therapy dog positively impacts children’s reading motivation and persistence. Anthrozoos 2019
  • Therapy dogs have a positive impact on reading performance in 6-7 year old children. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 2014.
  • Studies suggest petting a cat may improve mood in female undergraduate students. Anthrozoos, 2017
  • 150 Children participating in dog-related activities run by an American youth programme (4-H), had higher stress-management techniques and scholastic competence compared with children in activities that did not involve dogs.  American Psychological Journal, 2017
  • Pet ownership may be beneficial to child and adolescent emotional, cognitive, behavioural, educational and social development. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2017
  • A recent Cambridge University study suggested that children get on better with pets than siblings. This adds to the evidence that a pet can positively impact a child’s development and emotional well-being. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 2017 
  • Research suggests that animal therapy could improve the therapeutic relationship, overall well-being, and settlement outcomes of refugee children. Clinical Psychologist, 2017
  • Pet dogs can provide children with support during stressful social situations lowering their anxiety likely due to the dog’s non-judgemental nature. Social Development, 2016
  • A scientific study demonstrated that the structured care of a pet fish can improve glycemic control in adolescents with type 1 Diabetes. The Diabetes Educator, 2015
  • A scientific study concluded that the inclusion of therapy dogs can be beneficial for children who have been sexually abused. Benefits include significant decreases in trauma symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, and sexual concerns. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2012
  • Research among preschool children showed that the presence of a dog was linked to fewer prompts for in-memory tasks. Anthrozoos, 2010
  • A five-year study revealed that pet-owning children who are slow learners, or whose parents have divorced cope better with life than those who don’t have a pet.  Pet Health Council, 2007
  • In a scientific study on adoptive families, more than half of the participants had purposefully adopted pets needing rescue as a parallel experience for their adopted child(ren). Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 2007
  • Research links the influence of animal companions to lower blood pressure in children when reading or resting. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1983

Pets help children with ASD or ADHD

  • New exploratory study shows the benefits of introducing a cat into the homes of children with ASD. The study found cat adoption was associated with greater empathy, less separation anxiety and fewer behavioural problems. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 2021
  • Positive feedback from study of 24 children with ADHD that reduced the severity of ADHD symptoms among the children who received canine assisted intervention.  Journal of Attention Disorder, February 2015
  • The results of a British study illustrate the potential of pet dogs to improve the whole family function and anxiety of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Anthrozoos, 2015
  • Scientific studies highlighted that Canine Assisted Intervention (CAI) greatly reduces the severity of symptoms in children affected by ADHD. National Library of Medicine, 2013
  • Equine-Assisted Therapy appears to be beneficial for children with mood, disruptive, and adjustment disorders and PTSD and ADHD. Health and Social Care in the Community, 2007