There are some things about pets that non-pet people avoid. They do not want the mess to clean up after, they do not want the responsibility of having to care for an animal, and many report not wanting to deal with the heartbreak of outliving a pet. On the other hand, those who do have a pet, or pets, tend to cite the companionship and that they help with mental and physical health as a top reason to have an animal. As an organization that is committed to health and wellness we decided to take a bit of a deep dive into this topic and here is what we found.
For most people having a pet does, in fact, make them happier and healthier. But there are always exceptions.
Why Not To Have a Pet
Pet lovers will never understand why some people decide to be pet-free in the same way that most parents will never understand some people’s choice to be child-free. Those decisions, though, can be very liberating. Even PetHelpful.com, which is a website dedicated to animal lovers, gets that not everyone out there is going to want to add an animal to their lives (though we think they wish everyone would). They put together a respectable piece on this that is honest and hard hitting titled ‘8 Top Reasons Not To Get A Pet.” The article implores people to consider the down side of pet ownership before they jump in and get a pet in the first place. These include:
- High maintenance…Pets are entirely dependent upon their owners and can be incredibly high maintenance. It really does not matter whether you own a dog or a fish, they all demand time-consuming work on the part of the owner. Most pets need to be walked or exercised on a regular basis and they all need to be fed, loved and have their habitat cleaned.
- High expenses… No matter what type of animal you own, they all have an abundance of inherent costs associated with them. This can include veterinary bills, food, habitats such as cages or tanks, supplies, grooming costs, obedience training and even boarding when the owner has to go away.
- Allergies… There have been far too many stories about people who have purchased or adopted a pet only to find out later that they are allergic to their new family member. This can be very distressing for the individual, and potentially catastrophic for the animal.
- Noise pollution.. If someone prefers a quiet and serene environment, then owning a pet is not a very wise decision. All types of animals are naturally quite noisy. From barking dogs, screeching birds and cats who meowing incessantly, the quiet and serene fortress of solitude will quickly turn into a busy and noisy animal amusement park.
- Damage to house and property… Whether properly trained or not, pets will have a very negative impact on the actual condition of your house. This can look very different depending upon what type of pet you have.
- Lack of freedom… For someone who enjoys having a lot of freedom, pet ownership is clearly not a good idea. Pets require a high degree of care and attention.
- Lack of sleep… Perhaps the only pets which will not have a significant effect upon the amount of quality sleep their owner is able to get are fish. Most other pets essentially live by their own schedules.
- Short lifespan… To lose a pet is a heart-wrenching experience that many individuals would be more than happy to just avoid altogether.
The piece goes on to specifically present reasons not to get a dog, and then presents a short list of the most beginner friendly pets (parakeet, mice, guppies, and goldfish). This is all to say, however, that pets can be wonderful and fulfilling additions to your life and that they ultimately make many people more happy.
The Research On Pets and Happiness
A study that was published in 2018 hit news headlines around the world and no one has yet to debunk it. As reported in the media as diverse and geographically broad as the UK’s Independent and Earth.com news, ownership of pets tend to go hand in hand with people being happier, more fulfilled, and even wealthier. Granted the study was conducted in the UK, but the implications are universal and served to back up what other research, and even health insurance companies have known for some time. A 2016 study that focused solely on dogs was published which shows that dog owners feel their dogs have made their life better in some way.
- Seven in ten (71%) dog parents say their pup has made them happier people, with nearly four in five saying it’s easier to wake up in the morning because their dog greets them.
- About half of pup parents say their dog has made them more patient (54%), responsible (52%) or affectionate (47%).
- More than four in five (83%) say their dog has made them more active, with 72% saying their dog plays a role in their exercise decisions.
- In addition, dogs are the ultimate therapists with 85% of dog parents saying their dog has helped them get through a difficult time in their life. (Source).
While people feel similarly strong about all kinds of pets, dogs and cats tend to be the most common and are the most studied. Dogs and cats also help children grow up with better immune systems, as noted in a study that has changed a lot of people’s minds about having companion pets around very young children. As reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who have a dog or cat or are around dogs and cats during the first year of life are reported to be healthier and have fewer respiratory infections than children without contact to these animals. In the study, “Respiratory Tract Illnesses During the First Year of Life: Effect of Dog and Cat Contacts.” Healthier children make for happier parents.
Pets Make People Happier
There are a number of ways in which pets improve the lives of people. Many of them are summarized in the section above. However, since even insurance companies are now promoting pet ownership, it is easy to believe this is a fact. Notably Humana points out that not only does owning a cat or a dog lower the risk of dying of a heart attack, but it also lowers stress and depression:
Stroking your cat or dog can lower your blood pressure and make you feel calmer. Even watching fish can ease tense muscles. Playing with your pet increases the levels of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Maybe that’s why people recover from a stressful situation more quickly when they’re with their pets than with their partners or friends, a study done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found.
Pets connect you to a community. Dogs, like babies, are conversation starters. On walks, you’re bound to stop for a chat or two with other dog owners. Pets also give you the chance to meet like-minded owners at the vet, pet store, or training classes. There’s even a chance to connect online, where you can find forums and Facebook fan pages devoted to individual dog and cat breeds.
Pets get you moving. You can’t be a couch potato when you have a dog. Walking a dog regularly means you’re less likely to be obese and more likely to be physically active, the NIH has found. The benefits continue to pay off as you age. One NIH-sponsored study followed 2,500 adults, 71 to 82 years old. The result: Those who took their dogs out regularly had more physical stamina; they walked faster and for longer periods of time and had more mobility inside the house.
Not into dogs? Kitties need exercise too, so grab a cat toy and have fun.