May 28, 2024



By Carmen Greger

Pet therapy (technically known as animal-assisted therapy) is the integration of animals and humans to help improve a person’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This can be intentionally applied and achieved in a variety of rehabilitation centers with a trained and certified service animal, or simply in one’s own home with one’s own household pet (four-legged family member).

Whether it’s a furry feline, a loyal canine, or even a scaly reptile, pets have been shown to have a multitude of benefits for their human companions. 

From reducing stress and anxiety to improving heart health, here are just a few of the many reasons why having a pet can be a wonderful addition to your life.

Reducing stress and anxiety

Pets are known for their calming presence and ability to reduce stress levels in their human counterparts. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. The simple act of petting a dog or cat can have a therapeutic effect, helping to lower blood pressure and decrease anxiety.

“Pets provide a nonjudgmental presence, which can be incredibly soothing and comforting, especially for those who may be struggling with anxiety or depression.” -Dr. Rebecca Johnson (professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine)

Improving heart health

In addition to reducing stress levels, having a pet can also have a positive impact on heart health. Studies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

“Having a pet can have a calming effect on the body, which can help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.” -Dr. Thomas Lee (Harvard Medical School cardiologist)

Boosting mood and emotional well-being

Pets have also been shown to have a positive impact on mood and emotional well-being. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pet owners were found to have higher levels of self-esteem, greater feelings of belonging, and better overall well-being than those without pets.

As Dr. James Serpell, a professor of animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, explains, “Pets provide a sense of purpose and responsibility, which can be incredibly fulfilling for their human companions.”

Providing companionship and social support

For many people, pets are much more than just animals – they’re beloved members of the family and trusted companions. Whether it’s snuggling up on the couch with a furry friend or taking a walk with a loyal canine, pets provide unconditional love and companionship that can be invaluable, especially for those who may be living alone or struggling with social isolation.

Dr. Lisa Freeman, a professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, explains, “Pets can provide a source of comfort and companionship, helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

Encouraging physical activity

Pets can also be great motivators for physical activity, whether it’s taking a walk with a dog or playing with a cat. Studies have shown that pet owners are more likely to meet their daily physical activity goals, which can have a wide range of health benefits, from reducing the risk of obesity to improving cardiovascular health.

“Pets provide a reason to get up and get moving, which can be especially important for those who may be struggling with depression or other mental health issues.” -Dr. Marty Becker (veterinarian and author)

Fostering empathy and compassion

Having a pet can also help foster empathy and compassion in children and adults alike. By caring for and nurturing a pet, individuals can learn important life skills and develop a deeper appreciation for the needs and feelings of others.

As Dr. Aubrey Fine, a professor at California State Polytechnic University, explains, “Pets can provide a valuable opportunity for individuals to develop empathy and compassion, which can have a positive impact on their relationships with others.”

Whether you’re a dog-lover, a cat-person, an equine fan, or if you prefer a more exotic animal like snakes, birds and rabbits, there’s no denying the many benefits of pet ownership. From reducing stress and anxiety to improving heart health and fostering empathy and compassion, pets have a unique ability to enrich our lives in countless ways.

But perhaps the greatest gift that pets give us is their unconditional love and companionship. As author and humorist Josh Billings once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” And when you think about it, that’s really what pet therapy is all about – the healing power of love.

So whether you’re dealing with a chronic illness, struggling with depression or anxiety, or simply looking for a little extra joy in your life, consider bringing a furry (or scaly) friend into your home. As Dr. Johnson puts it, “Pets can provide a sense of comfort and connection that can be incredibly powerful, helping to improve our overall sense of well-being and happiness.”

Pets provide a wide range of benefits for their human companions, from reducing stress and anxiety to improving heart health and fostering empathy and compassion. If you’re considering adding a pet to your family, be sure to do your research and choose an animal that is well-suited to your lifestyle and needs. And if you’re not able to have a pet of your own, consider volunteering at a local animal shelter or simply spending time with a friend or family member’s pet.

The healing power of animals is truly remarkable, and we can all benefit from the love, pure joy and companionship that they provide.