10 health benefits of owning a pet

Jane Murphy / 02 October 2017

They can help you sleep better, lose weight and make new friends. Here's why taking good care of a pet could help you take care of yourself, too.



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You'll have a better night's sleep

Allow your dog or cat to stay in the bedroom and you're more likely to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep, say researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. The caveat? This only works if your pet doesn't get under the covers with you. These latest findings back up a previous Mayo Clinic study, which found that many pet owners enjoy better slumber simply because they derive a sense of comfort and security from having their pets close by at night.

10 benefits of getting a good night's sleep

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You'll feel much happier

Walking the dog can do wonders for your mental health, according to psychologists at the University of Liverpool. While owners may insist it's the pooch who benefits most, the fact that walking is a guaranteed mood-lifter is often their key motivation, say the researchers.

10 natural ways to lift your mood

You'll protect your heart

Dog ownership is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, according to a 2013 review of studies by the American Heart Association. The reason? Those daily walkies boost your physical activity levels, of course, which in turn has a protective effect on the heart. But it's not all about dogs: pets of all kinds may provide social support to their owners, which can help them manage stress and motivate them to stick with new healthy habits.

Learn more about protecting your heart health

You'll make friends

More than half of us say dog-owners are friendlier than average; 46 per cent believe dog-walking is one of the easiest ways to make friends; and 29 per cent of dog-owners insist they've made lifelong friends while out with their pooch. That's according to a 2015 survey by Direct Line. It's also very common for people to bond over their shared love of other animals, of course – as anyone who's ever spent an entire evening swapping cat stories with friends can testify!

Learn more about making new friends

You'll be niftier on your feet

One more benefit of walking the dog? You'll get better at walking. In a University of Missouri study, a group of older adults were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. Those who walked with their dogs improved their walking capabilities, confidence, speed and dexterity by 28 per cent after 12 weeks. But – whisper it! – those who walked with a human 'buddie' only improved by four per cent, as they tended to dawdle and discourage one another.

How to walk property - tips from walking guru Joanna Hall

You'll keep your weight in check

Another benefit of dog-walking is that you'll burn a few calories in the process. People who walked their dogs for just 20 minutes, five times a week, lost an average 14.4lbs in just under a year in a 2010 study published in the journal Clinical Nursing Research.

More strange weight loss tips that just might work

You'll cut your stroke risk

Owning a cat can reduce risk of stroke or heart attack by more than a third, according to a University of Minnesota study, which looked at 4,435 adults aged between 30 and 75, half of whom owned a cat. Even when other risk factors such as high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes were taken into account, the cat-owners were still significantly less likely to develop a stroke or heart problem during the 10-year study period. So why the effect? Cat ownership relieves stress and anxiety, which in turn reduces stroke risk, the researchers suggest.

How to reduce your risk of stroke

You may feel less pain

The calming effect of having a much-loved pet around could help you manage pain and recover quicker after surgery. That's according to a study from Loyola University Chicago, which found patients recovering from joint replacement surgery who received animal-assisted therapy – a daily visit from a specially trained dog – required significantly less pain medication than those who didn't experience this type of therapy.

More tips on recovering from surgery

You'll keep your blood pressure in check

Having a pet around – and stroking them in particular – can help lower blood pressure and encourages the release of feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. In a landmark 1988 study, published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, participants' blood pressure was at its lowest when petting a dog, slightly higher when talking to the dog and at its highest when talking to the researcher.

10 ways to lower your blood pressure

Your grandkids will benefit, too

Babies from families with pets have a lower risk of developing allergies, says a University of Alberta study. The theory? Exposure to pet allergens early in life encourages early immunity.

10 foods that support your immune system

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