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Ask an Expert – Furry friends can increase healthy trends

By Emma Parkhurst, Utah State University Extension assistant professor - | May 15, 2024

Whether you consider yourself a cat or a dog person, research shows caring for a pet can positively impact your physical and mental health. Pets provide a sense of companionship and are often considered valued members of the family. According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, the relationship between pets and people can lead to enhanced social support, emotional well-being, and overall well-being.

Rachel Morse of Oklahoma State University Extension shared: “Research has shown that pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, tended to be less fearful, and were more extroverted.”

According to the American Heart Association, additional benefits include:

  • Anxiety management. Now more than ever, people are feeling anxious or struggling with mental health. Studies show that when owners see, touch, or interact with their pets, they experience a sense of joy, nurturing, and happiness.
  • Companionship and support. The relationship with a pet can help reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Increased physical activity. Pets provide a reason to get outside and be active, which improves not only physical health but also mood, sleep, and overall mental health.
  • Increased work productivity. When a dog joins a virtual meeting, group members rank their teammates higher on trust, team cohesion, and camaraderie.
  • Increased longevity. Studies found that, overall, dog owners tend to live longer than non-owners. They also often recover better from major health events such as a heart attack or stroke, especially if they live alone.

If you are not a pet owner but consider yourself an animal lover, there are still ways you can experience the positive benefits of a furry friend.

Visit family or friends who have pets and enjoy the animal interaction.

Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter.

Look into animal therapy programs, such as equine (horse) therapy.

Sign up as a pet sitter or walker.


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