Health benefits

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85 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.

85 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:

Loneliness

Depression

Stress

Social interaction

  • 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
  • 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

General health

  • 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
  • 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
  • Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has been proven beneficial as a complementary treatment intervention in palliative care settings. OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 2013
  • Research suggests that by enhancing companionship for some HIV-infected persons, pets may buffer the stressful impact of AIDS. AIDS Care, 1999
  • 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
  • Dog owners are four times more likely to meet the activity guidelines of 150 mins per week. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 2013
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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 highlights that cat-assisted therapy, involving petting and grooming the animal, helps Parkinson’s patients control hand tremors. Polish Annals of Medicine, 2017
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

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
  • Owning a dog cuts risk of heart attacks and other fatal diseases. The Guardian, 2017

Blood pressure

  • 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

Allergies

The Bond – an overview of benefits

  • An overview of domestic dogs and human health.  British Journal of Health Psychology, 2007
  • Research among 719 adults with grown-up children showed that pet owners reported better mental and physical health and this result was more pronounced among those who were married.  Medical Journal of Australia, 2006
  • An interesting review of research into the association between pet ownership and human health by Liz Ormerod in the medical ‘bible’ the BMJ. BMJ, 2005
  • Research shows that including companion animals as valuable resources can inform and enrich therapeutic work with couples and families. Family Process, 2009
  • Owning pet fish provides purpose and enjoyment in life. Many therapists recommend that their patients keep pet fish. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2009

Children

  • 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
  • Youngsters growing up with family pets tend to have greater self-esteem, less loneliness, and enhanced social skills. 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 
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Scientific studies highlighted that Canine Assisted Intervention (CAI) greatly reduces the severity of symptoms in children affected by ADHD. National Library of Medicine, 2013
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Research suggests that animal therapy could improve the therapeutic relationship, overall well-being, and settlement outcomes of refugee children. Clinical Psychologist, 2017
  • 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