How Pets Benefit the Human Well-Being
Updated: Jun 26
By: Lynda Sun
The relationship between humans and animals has come a long way since human-animal interaction was first introduced. For a long time, humans have interacted with and kept pets solely for companionship. But, what does a pet really bring to you and your home?
For many around the world, pets are friends, family members, and loyal supporters in times of need. We spend our lives with them, share many meaningful memories, and bask in their companionship. We strengthen our relationships with them, but they can help strengthen ours too. Pets can bring families closer, make romantic relationships more grounded, and help humans build stronger bonds.
It is known by many that pets can teach meaningful skills and lessons that we’ll carry into adulthood and beyond, such as caregiving, responsibility, and empathy. However, it’s come to the attention that pets can give us much more, especially for young children. Studies show that pets can influence a child’s social skills, physical health, and even intellectual development. "It's really important, especially for young kids, to learn that someone's perspective might be different from their own," says Megan Mueller, an associate professor of human-animal interaction at Tufts University. "That's an easier lesson to learn, perhaps, with an animal than it is with, say, a sibling or a peer."
In one study, researchers found that children performed better on an object categorization and memory task when a dog was present in the room. Even in adults, they’ve found that just viewing a pet as a close member or relative improves our well-being.
Physical activity is also a crucial part of how pets can help boost our bodies. Pets and humans both benefit from physical exercise and by going on dog walks, for example, we can get more movement into our day. Accounting for social and economic factors, researchers found that children who regularly participated in dog-related physical activity also displayed better developmental outcomes.
Social interaction is something that maybe you wouldn’t think pets could help with but surprisingly, they bring more to the table than expected. According to data from a study consisting of over 4,000 children between the ages of 3 and 7, Hayley Christian, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia, along with other colleagues, has found that pet ownership is associated with fewer problems among peers and leads to more prosocial behavior. Separately, they also found that children between the ages of 2 and 5 that had a family dog were more active, spent less time on mobile devices, and slept more on average.
Those struggling with mental health disorders can also look to pets for comfort. According to researchers at the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), studies have shown that animals can help relieve mental health-related illnesses and symptoms. In addition, another study found that war veterans living with PTSD and other disorders showed better signs of mental health if they had a service dog. Including lower overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress, lower levels of depression, higher overall psychological well-being, lower levels of social isolation, higher levels of social participation, and higher levels of resilience. The work of service animals proves to be effective as treatment targeted toward PTSD, essential information knowing that mental health disorders affect almost 30% of post 9/11 veterans.
Yet, veterans aren’t the only ones struggling with mental health. As college students and other pet owners suffer from stress and anxiety, pets can help owners manage emotions, provide comfort, and distract from the daily fears that everyday life may bring.
“Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active.” says authors Kai Lundgren, Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal. “Perhaps most importantly, though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.”