Do You Like Animals? Studies Say They Make Life Better

  • Paul Sullivan
  • May 13, 2022

We cuddle them, walk them, love them. Pet owners can’t get enough of their pets and non-owners may not understand what all the craze is about. Well, it turns out that a pet is more than just an extra-furry family member. Animals can make our lives better, longer, and healthier, and studies have no shortage of details on just how deep the benefits go.

The Many Benefits of Having a Pet

Maybe it’s because they understand us without necessarily comprehending our language, or that they love us without having to qualify how or why. Whatever the case, animals have a connection to us that is both rich and unconditional. Karin Winegar, author of Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform, wrote that “The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can.” So it should come as no surprise that the many benefits animals can bring are the result of showing no judgement but plenty of love.

On a more concrete level, having a pet or even being around animals has shown to have a number of benefits. For example, petting and cuddling dogs fosters the production of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which calms the nervous system and helps create a sense of trust. Much in the same way, everyday activities with dogs can also lower your cortisol (“stress hormone”) levels, giving your canine moments an aura of serenity. Dog owners also tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels than non-owners, and so dog-lovers have fewer instances of heart-related diseases.

The benefits aren’t exclusive to dogs, however. Pet-ownership as a whole has been shown to be associated with a healthier lifestyle, most likely because having any kind of animal in the house encourages one to be more active. Consider cats. Taking your cat for a walk (it happens more often than you think) or playing with your furry feline friend is a doubly rewarding exercise, as it gives you time to focus on well-being as well as your connection to a loved one. Speaking of connection, owning any kind of animal has been shown to reduce or even negate feelings of loneliness. Animal ownership tends to ward off depressive thought patterns and can even help one recovering from rejection or heartbreak, allowing an animal-owner to bounce back quicker and with fewer lasting effects.

Even if cats or dogs are not your thing, owning fish is known to have benefits as well. Actually, just seeing them can help! Simply watching fish swimming freely in an aquarium has been shown to lower onlookers’ heart rate and ease muscle tension.

Animals Providing Services

The National Institutes of Health have found that people tend to recover from stressful situations faster and more effectively when accompanied with their pets, even more so than with their friends or spouse. Case in point: heart attack sufferers who own pets live longer than those who don’t own any pets. Another study found that patients with borderline hypertension enjoyed significantly reduced blood pressure five months after visiting a shelter and adopting a dog.

    Given the many benefits we have seen, it is not surprising that hospital-visiting dogs have shown promising results for patients as well. According to a study from John Hopkins University, dogs visiting patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) have helped them achieve recovery goals quicker, including regaining strength and getting a target amount of rest. Marin Hedin explains that plenty of the machinery of an ICU, namely the tubes and monitors, can be dehumanizing, and patients can become demoralized as a result. Dogs seem to have exactly the opposite effect, given that they thrive on human touch. Small activities with friendly canines, like petting or calm walking, have shown to accelerate patient recovery.

    Perhaps most surprisingly, animals can even help improve life for prison inmates. How? Animals have the ironic power of demonstrating what it is to be human, being the expressive and caring creatures that they are. Dogs have been shown to foster empathy in owners, and even casual interactions with humans can lead to people feeling heightened empathy. A few studies have shown that hardened criminals who interact with animals show long-term change in their behaviour, most likely because they experience unconditional love, perhaps for the first time.

    And if cats, dogs, and fish have such great benefits, what about cows? Perhaps one of the most astounding animal services out there is cow-cuddling. You may not imagine a 1,500-pound bovine to be the ideal playmate, but folks in New York state are paying a fine price ($300) to spend just 90 minutes with a cow. Whether people are petting, hugging, or leaning against these strong cattle, the human-and-cow relationship has shown to be beneficial in reducing stress levels and encouraging well-being, thus popularizing the term “Cow Yoga.” Similar activities with horses and goats are also available.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the most surprising result in this article? In your experience, do you agree with the findings here?
  2. Are you a pet-owner? What kind of benefits do you associate with having a pet, or perhaps not having one? Has this article changed your mind at all?
  3. Do you think it’s a good idea to bring animals to hospitals and prisons? What are some other benefits or problems you can imagine?
  4. Would you ever try cow, horse, or goat yoga? Do you think this is a fad or the future of therapy?