It’s estimated that in 2022 in the UK, 62% of people owned some kind of pet, with dogs being the most popular.
People welcome pets into their homes for a whole host of reasons, but the main one is that they make us feel good. Pets are there for us when we’re happy, sad, sick, lonely, and everything else in between. They love us unconditionally, which is why they make the ideal companions.
If you’re reading this article, you might be thinking about taking on a furry, feathery, or scaly friend of your own. But before you do, it can be helpful to find out more about what you stand to gain.
With that said, here are 10 physical and mental benefits of owning a pet.
1. Pets can keep us active
Dogs need walking at least once a day, so owning one can encourage us to get outside for some fresh air and exercise.
It can be easy to put off going out for a walk, run or cycle if you’re not a dog owner – but heading out for some daily exercise is one of a dog’s favourite parts of the day, and they’ll be relying on you to make it happen.
Pets also love to play. So even if you spend an hour or two dangling a toy mouse for your cat to chase, or playing fetch in the garden with your dog, you’ll still be getting the blood pumping around your body.
2. Pets can reduce feelings of loneliness
Perhaps you live alone, work a different shift pattern than your partner, or don’t happen to have any friends that live nearby. Whatever your reason for feeling lonely, pets can make brilliant companions.
Dogs and cats especially, tend to enjoy hanging out with their owners; playing games, watching your every move(!) or having a Sunday nap session.
Returning home after a day, an hour, or even five minutes to be greeted by a dog – with a tail so waggy that you wonder if they’re going to take off like a helicopter – can be a wonderful feeling. Pets appreciate us and never judge, making their company extra special.
3. Pets can lower blood pressure
Pets are great for lowering stress and anxiety levels.
Meanwhile, other studies suggest that people can recover from stress more quickly when they’re with their pets.
4. Pets can add meaning and purpose to our lives
As much as you stand to gain from becoming a pet owner, pets rely heavily on us too. You’ll be responsible for feeding, walking, bathing, and playing with them – as well as training them and keeping their living space clean and hygienic.
Feeling responsible for the health and wellbeing of a pet can help to add meaning and purpose to your life.
Pets can give us an extra reason to get up in the morning and help to distract us from some of the more serious areas of our lives. They don’t understand bills or what’s going on in the news – all they understand is whether or not they’re getting their daily walk, or that if they stand nearby when you’re eating, they might be able to hoover up a cheeky crumb or two!
Creatures of habit, pets and humans also love routines, so owning a pet can bring more structure to your day.
Pets are usually fed and walked at regular times – not forgetting a daily cuddle on the sofa after a long day – and these positive habits can bring us great fulfilment.
5. Pets can boost our heart health
Links have been made between dog ownership and reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels because it encourages a less sedentary lifestyle. Cholesterol and triglycerides are fatty deposits that can build up in arteries and cause heart disease.
Studies have also shown that recovery after a heart attack or stroke can be boosted by being with a pet – and may significantly reduce the risk of death.
6. Pets make us smile
No matter what kind of day we’re having, pets have a habit of being able to make us smile or laugh.
Whether you’re watching your dog chase his tail, having a cuddle with your cat as they purr softly or watching your gerbil run like mad on their wheel – it’s difficult not to find yourself feeling more cheerful.
According to research, people who own a pet tend to be happier, and are twice as likely to consider themselves a success.
7. Pets can encourage us to socialise
If you’re someone who struggles to get out and meet people, then owning a pet can really help.
Pets are great talking points and people often find it easy to bond over their love of animals – especially when sharing stories about their own furry, scaly, or feathery friend.
If you own a dog, it can also be easy to get to know regular faces when out for walks – faces that can eventually become friends.
You might also get approached by other dog lovers who want to compliment yours, ask what he or she is called, or ask if they can stroke them. You might be surprised how much social interaction dogs can attract.
8. Pets have been known to help detect and treat illness
Animals have been known to help detect, treat and manage a variety of illnesses and injuries.
For example, service dogs have been able to help people with rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic brain injury and autism to improve their mobility and increase their independence. They help them to carry out normal daily tasks such as opening cupboards and getting dressed.
Dogs have also been used to help soothe Alzheimer’s patients who are prone to emotional flare-ups.
Other specially trained dogs have even been trained to sniff out illnesses such as bladder, skin, kidney, and prostate cancer in people. They have over 300 million smell receptors in their noses, compared with our six million, giving them an incredibly powerful sense of smell.
While there’s no scientific research to suggest that untrained pets can do the same, there are plenty of dog owners who’ve reported that their dog helped to catch their cancer early – for example, by pawing and licking at the area where a tumour was hidden beneath the skin.
While it’s definitely not a good idea to rely on your pet pooch to screen you for diseases or to help you around the house if they’ve not been trained to do so – knowing that you have such an intelligent, caring, and attentive companion by your side can be comforting.
9. Pets can prevent grandkids from developing allergies
Once upon a time, scientists believed that having a pet in your home could contribute to children’s allergies, but it has since been proven that the opposite is true.
Owning a dog or cat can actually lower children’s risk of developing asthma and allergies to pets. And owning more than one pet can decrease the risk by half.
10. Pets can make us feel safe
Some people feel more secure having a dog in the home because they can bark to alert you to any signs of danger or anything suspicious.
Many burglars (or just anyone who’s up to no good) will often be put off burgling a home where a dog is clearly resident.
Some dog breeds are known for their loyalty and guarding skills, so will also be vigilant when they’re out and about with you, and let you know about anything that doesn’t seem right.
Getting a dog purely for safety and security isn’t recommended, as they have a lot they’ll need from us too – but it can be an added bonus of welcoming a furry companion into your home.
Becoming a pet owner is a big commitment, and can take up a lot of your time and money. Therefore, you should always do your homework before making a final decision about getting a pet.
It’s also worth noting that different breeds or species of animals can have very different temperaments and habits – so it’s important to make sure that your pet will easily fit around your lifestyle.
For example, if you regularly see your grandchildren, you’ll need to make sure that any dog you bring home has a good reputation with children. It’s also a good idea to confirm that you’re not allergic to cat hair before bringing home your first cat.
When looking for a pet, it’s worth taking your time and speaking to as many different breeders and existing pet owners as possible to get a full picture of the breed you’re interested in.
Many people also automatically go to buy a puppy or kitten. But there are plenty of dogs and cats in animal shelters that are in need of homes too — so it’s worth having a look, just in case you find a pet that’s a good match.
You might also want to read our complete guide to adopting a dog.
If you love animals but can’t have a pet…
We appreciate that not every animal lover will be able to welcome a pet into their home – maybe because your landlord won’t allow it, you live with someone that doesn’t like them, or perhaps due to finances.
If this is the case and you’d still like to be able to get close to animals, you could consider working or volunteering with them. Other ways you can connect with animals include birdwatching, pet sitting, and visiting a dog or cat cafe.
For more ideas, check out our article; 13 ways to connect with animals.