The company of animals – whether as pets or services animals – can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to recover from illnesses.
The American Pet Products Association’s Pet Owner Survey found that nearly 70% (or 84.6 million) households in the U.S. own a pet. Of those households, 80% believe their pets bring them happiness and emotional support, 55% believe their pets reduce anxiety and depression, and 66% believe their pets relieve stress.
In general, pet ownership can:
- Improve cardiovascular health and physical activity
- Decrease stress and lower blood pressure
- Reduce loneliness, which can increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions
For those living with mental and physical health conditions, animal companionship can be even more beneficial. In people with cancer, animal-assisted interventions (i.e. therapy, education, activities) play a role in reducing anxiety, depression, and aggression during treatment. For people being treated for HIV, those who own dogs show fewer symptoms of depression and are better at taking medications – likely because of the routines that come with dog ownership.
Service dogs can also make a world of difference to many.
People who are hearing impaired showed long-term reductions in depression after
getting a service dog.
Veterans with PTSD reported decreases in depression, social isolation, anxiety,
and alcohol abuse, while also reporting improved sleep and better coping with
flashbacks after being paired with service dogs.
Service dogs also help lighten the responsibilities of caregivers by assisting
those with disabilities to accomplish everyday tasks and alerting to symptoms
of chronic health conditions.
Levine, Glenn N., et al. “Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.” Circulation 127.23 (2013): 2353-2363.
Barker, Sandra B., et al. “Exploratory study of stress-buffering response patterns from interaction with a therapy dog.” Anthrozoös 23.1 (2010): 79-91.
Antonacopoulos, Nikolina M. Duvall, and Timothy A. Pychyl .“An Examination of the Potential Role of Pet Ownership, Human Social Support and Pet Attachment in the Psychological Health of Individuals Living Alone.” Anthrozoös 23, no. 1 (March 2010): 37–54.
Gagnon, Johanne, et al. “Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program for children with cancer: a descriptive study.” Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal/Revue canadienne de soins infirmiers en oncologie 14.4 (2004): 217-222.
Muldoon, A., Kuhns, L., Supply, J., Jacobson, K.C., & Garofalo, R. (2017). A web-based study of dog ownership and depression among people living with HIV. Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health 4(4).
Wells, D. (2009). The effects of animals on human health and well-being. Journal of Social Issues 65(3):523-543.
O’Haire, Marguerite E., and Kerri E. Rodriguez. “Preliminary efficacy of service dogs as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder in military members and veterans.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 86.2 (2018): 179.