The Pet Effect

Household pets and their effect on mental and physical health


Ella Brazy, Author

Living in today’s fast-paced world can be tough on one’s health. This battle against daily stressors can be quite difficult, but some may be able to relieve this stress with a four-legged friend. Domestic pets are some of the most comforting companions. They keep a person healthy, relieve stress, show love, and prevent one from feeling lonely. Everybody has their own reasons for having pets in their household, but what about their effect on mental and physical health? 

The Pet Effect, also described as the human-animal bond, is the relationship between people and animals where both parties mutually benefit from the positive impact on health and well-being. In fact, 98% of pet owners consider their furry friend to be a member of the family. According to a survey conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), “74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership” and “75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health improved from pet ownership”. Positive human-animal interaction is linked to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of fear and anxiety as well as an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain. 

Owning and caring for a pet may also be beneficial to one’s physical health. HelpGuide, a website pertaining to improving mental/physical health, explains, People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.” Pet owners also have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets. Another positive impact of owning a pet is the increase of serotonin and dopamine when playing with a pet, which are neurotransmitters that help one calm and relax. 

Pets can also have a significantly positive effect on people with certain mental illnesses, as pets are a wonderful motivator for people to engage in more physical activity. Animals that require lots of time outside and exercise often prompt their owners to do the same. This outside time combined with physical activity can be helpful to those battling depression. Pets also have significant calming effects on their owner. Stroking, sitting next to, or playing with a pet gives one the ability to relax and calm their mind. Furthermore, caring for a pet can give one a sense of achievement and purpose. Playing with and taking care of a pet can also massively benefit children with ADHD. According to the Mental Health Foundation, Taking charge of the jobs on a pet care schedule, such as feeding, walking and bathing, helps a child learn to plan and be responsible.” These children can also release excess energy by taking a walk with their pet or playing with them outside, resulting in the child being more relaxed and calmer at night.