For years, pet lovers have been advocates for the positive mental and physical health benefits of owning a pet. And the scientific research into pet ownership appears to confirm what pet lovers have long known: Owning a pet can increase physical activity, provide companionship, and—in some cases—mitigate the symptoms of depression, especially in older adults.
In July 2017, researcher Alison While published an article title, “Pet Dogs as Promoters of Wellbeing,” in the British Journal of Community Nursing. While found that apart from the extra responsibility of taking care of an animal, most of the benefits are, in fact, good. The author notes that owning a pet can:
- Provide the opportunity for more social interactions
- Be a source of support and affection in difficult times
- Provide the owner with a source of unconditional love
- Generate a sense of purpose by the pet owner
- Increase physical activity
In short, owning a pet can provide a list of psychological benefits that may be more difficult to find elsewhere.
Specifically, While’s work focuses on the psychological benefits of owning a pet for older adults. “For some people growing old is associated with unmet mental health needs where [that person’s] lives are characterized by the experience of increasing social isolation,” she writes. “While recognizing that not everybody enjoys the presence of pets in their home, it seems that for those who like dogs there is evidence that their presence can offer both psychological and physical health benefits.”
In conjunction with While’s work other popular media outlets such as Time magazine have also made clear the psychological benefits of owning a pet. In an April 2017 article, Mandy Oaklander writes that “the science of pet therapy is getting serious,” and notes that “95 percent of pet owners think of their animal as a member of the family.” Moreover, whereas While’s work focuses on dogs in particular, Oaklander highlights the benefits of owning other animals. Fish, rabbits, birds and even crickets—yes, crickets—have been shown to yield positive mental health benefits for their owners. In one 2016 study, older adults who were give five crickets to care for in a cage became less depressed after eight weeks than a control group.
As While points out, housing an animal such as a dog may bring with it additional responsibilities and economic commitments, but those costs can be minimal, and the psychological payback of pet ownership appears to outweigh the costs—especially for older adults with mental health challenges. Additionally, these benefits have been highlighted in studies in North America, Europe, Australia, and the UK.
Finally, if you feel alone, need companionship, or if you are struggling with mental health challenges, perhaps becoming a pet owner can alleviate some of those symptoms.
Oaklander, M. (2017). The Science of Pet Therapy is Getting Serious. Time Magazine.
While, A. (2017). Pet Dogs as Promoters of Wellbeing. British Journal of Community Nursing, 22, 7, 332 – 336.