The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
Feb 18, 2019 Cedars-Sinai Staff
People who have pets will tell you that their furry friends add a lot of joy and happiness to their lives.
Whether they’re cats, dogs, birds, bunnies, or something more unconventional, pets provide unconditional love and companionship to the humans who care for them.
Pet ownership also comes with a variety of health benefits. Studies have shown that having a pet can be good for everything from your heart to your brain.
Pets and your health
Pets have been shown to reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Animals at home can also reduce stress and increase fitness levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prolonged stress has been linked to many chronic health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Some studies have also shown a positive correlation between pets and reduced symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. One study conducted in 2002 supported what researchers already suspected—having dogs around reduced agitation and behavioral issues in Alzheimer's patients.
Pets and aging
Pets can be especially beneficial for older people, according to Cedars-Sinai geriatrician Dr. Sonja Rosen.
"Loneliness has been linked to earlier death and poor health outcomes. The companionship a pet provides can be really valuable," says Dr. Rosen.
"Pets also encourage their owners to be more active, and the longer we stay active as we age, the better."
Dr. Rosen says those with gait or balance disorders should use caution before getting a pet.
"Dogs can be a fall risk when you walk them, so consult your physician first," she says.
Dogs at Cedars-Sinai
At Cedars-Sinai, the Barbara Cowen POOCH Volunteer Program brings the benefits of pets directly to patients in the hospital.
Through the program, dogs and their owners help lift spirits and lower anxiety for patients, visitors, and staff.
"We know that even a short visit from a dog in the POOCH program can help patients feel better," says volunteer coordinator Camille Camello-Zendejas. "We have seen the benefits firsthand and we hear it from patients almost daily."