THE BLOG
11/13/2014 08:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

9 Ways Pets Improve Our Lives

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November is "Adopt a Senior Pet Month," and adopting a pet isn't just good for your pet; it's good for you, too. Check out these nine scientifically-researched ways that pets improve the lives of their human companions.

1. They can help improve self-esteem

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that pet owners exhibit stronger self-esteem than non-pet-owners. What's more, pet owners are more extroverted and less fearful than people who don't own pets.

2. They can help reduce the risk of allergies

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Contrary to popular belief, it seems owning a pet does not make you more susceptible to allergies.

In fact, studies suggest that being exposed to a pet early in life may decrease your risk of animal allergies later on. In research conducted on young adults, those who had a pet in their home during infancy were approximately 50 percent less likely to develop an allergic reaction to animals.

3. They can help reduce our negativity

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Much like thinking about a friend might help you feel less negative after a bad social experience, thinking about a pet has been suggested to have the same effect.

In a study conducted on 97 pet owners (see the Psychology Today article cited above), participants were unknowingly subjected to a negative social experience. They were then asked to either write about their best friend, their pet or draw a map of their college campus (the control group).

This study showed that the participants who wrote about their pet or their best friend both showed zero negative feelings and were equally happy, even after the negative social experience. The control group, however, continued to exhibit negative feelings.

4. They can help reduce loneliness

In addition to boosting self-esteem, pets can also reduce the amount of loneliness we feel.

One study found that people with pet dogs reported having their social needs fulfilled just as effectively by their pets as by their friends. The research subjects reported that their dogs provided them with a strong sense of self-esteem, belonging and a meaningful existence.

Unlike the stereotype, however, people do not seem to rely on their pets more when their human interactions are lacking. That is, people don't turn solely to their pets in lieu of having friends but, rather, enjoy their pets' company in addition to the company of their friends.

5. They make us feel supported

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Studies have also revealed that pet owners feel they receive just as much support from their pets as they do from their family members (see the Psychology Today article above). Much like the example above, people report feeling closer to their pets when they also feel close to important people in their lives.

6. They help make us want to stay healthier

It's really hard to sit on the couch all day and watch TV when your dog or cat is begging for attention. Maybe it's because of this that studies have shown that pet owners are healthier and more active than non-pet-owners (see the PsycNET article above).

Whether you're dragging a toy around your house for your cat or taking your dog on a casual walk, you're getting some exercise. Of course, dog owners, especially, are likely to do more walking, which is great for your health and mood.

7. They can help make us less stressed

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Animal experts like Arden Moore say that simply petting your dog or cat can help reduce your stress.

Even more impressive, however, is this study, which suggests that pets can help reduce stress and comfort us even more than our friends and spouses. Their unconditional love and the fact that they don't judge us make pets the best support system during stressful times.

8. They draw other people to us

Opposite to the myth of the "crazy cat lady" who lives alone with her 12 felines and zero friends, studies have found that owing a pet can actually improve our human relationships and draw others to us.

As pointed out by this WebMD article, pets are natural conversation starters and can attract other pet lovers to us.

9. They can help stabilize our blood pressure

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Lastly and possibly most impressively, owning a pet can actually help reduce your blood pressure.

While medications like ACE inhibiting drugs can reduce high blood pressure, such medications aren't effective enough to control blood pressure spikes due to tension and stress.

However, this study took a bunch of stressed out stockbrokers and gave half of them dogs and cats, while leaving others without pets. Those given pets for the course of the study exhibited significantly more stable blood pressure than those without. What's more, when the control group learned of the study's findings, many of them got a loving pet to help them manage their stress.

Adopting an animal from your local ASPCA or other adoption center is the best thing you can do for him or her. When left on the street, animals are likely to die from starvation, vehicle accidents and disease. However, reputable animal shelters make sure to properly vaccinate and rehabilitate animals before they are put up for adoption, so you can be sure that the animal you're adopting will be a good fit for your family.

Ask your local shelter today about adopting a senior pet, and improve the life of both your pet and yourself.

Images by Mel, Keith Kissel, DavideGorla, nina_pic and Holly Lay

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