Pet Ownership Benefits Mental and Physical Health

A boy and puppy playAmerican families love their pets. “With over 77 million dogs and 93 million cats in the United States alone (62% of U.S. households own a pet, with spending exceeding $45 billion annually), it is clear that pets are both ubiquitous and important entities,” said Allen R. McConnell of Miami University and lead author of a study examining the psychological benefits of pet ownership. “Moreover, it is commonly assumed that pets can play a significant social role in people’s lives.”

Often people are encouraged to get a pet after experiencing the death of a loved one. Older adults who find themselves isolated might consider the companionship a pet can provide. Research has shown that heart attack survivors live longer if they own a pet, and one study suggested that men with HIV who owned pets experienced less depression than their non-pet-owning counterparts. “However, it is an open question as to whether pets provide social support for people in general,” said McConnell.

In an effort to determine if pets actually provide social support and improve psychological and physical well-being, McConnell and his colleagues interviewed 217 pet owners and people without pets over a two week period. The participants completed surveys over the computer and answered questions relating to happiness, exercise, loneliness, depression, and self-esteem. The team found that the pet owners engaged in more exercise and enjoyed higher levels of physical fitness than people who did not have pets. Additionally, the pet owners also cited higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of loneliness.

“Overall, pet owners were more conscientious and more extroverted than non-owners,” said the team. They added, “In summary, the present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support. Given our increasing understanding of the consequences of loneliness and social connection and how social support plays a critical role in stress, illness, and even mortality, identifying when and how pets serve owners’ social needs is important.”

McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011, July 4). Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024506

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Karen Macrae

    Karen Macrae

    October 5th, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    Ain’t that the truth!
    Sometimes my labradoodle Maggie is the only thing that makes me feel good about my day!
    There is no better stress relief after a hard day of work than coming home and being with her.
    She makes me exercise, believe me, and she keeps ,e going when the going gets tough.
    If you get down. then get a pet.

  • Jay


    October 5th, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    Wow, I must be the “minority”. I’ve owned pets for years and I’m very introverted and isolated. As for stress, there is nothing more stressful than losing pet after pet to death and worrying about them. I am both physically and mentally disabled still and getting worse. What does that say for your theories?

  • anna


    October 5th, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    people have had pets since thousands of years and the reason remains the same today as it was then-a companion,a friend and something that you can have with you even when the entire world is up against you. I think this one quality of pets-standing by in good times and in bad-is something that people need to learn because today a pet is considered to be a better friend than people because just so many people are dishonest in their ways and are always looking to be good-weather friends with others.

  • Jon


    October 6th, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    Think of how many people have benefitted from pet therapy too in hospital settings. I think that we are really on to something here.

  • jonothan wheeler

    jonothan wheeler

    October 6th, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    I’m never happier than when I get a new dog. I love animals, always have since I was a child. A new four-legged addition to our family lifts my spirits sky high. I don’t know how anyone gets by without one! They are definitely good for your health. :)

  • D.C. Johnstone

    D.C. Johnstone

    October 6th, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    I don’t get the big deal about pets, dogs in particular. They are noisy, they stink and they cost you money for food and vet care. They tie you down as much as kids do- Ever asked a pet owner to take a spontaneous week’s vacation? They can’t do it- and cause you nothing but pain when they die. I don’t think any of that’s a good thing.

  • 23carlson32


    October 6th, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    have seen a lot of older people with nobody but pets to accompany them and try seem to be very happy with them.pets have helped millions of people get rid of ok linear and the want for a friend I’m sure.and having company of a pet can help your health too-that sounds win-win! :)

  • Alisha A.

    Alisha A.

    October 6th, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    @D.C.-I doubt you ever owned one then. Vets and food are a small price to pay for the unconditional love and constant companionship you get from a dog over its lifetime. And if they save you from a heart attack by lowering your stress levels, they are worth their weight in gold.

    Dogs that are noisy and stink have bad owners that don’t care for them properly. That doesn’t make them bad dogs. And there are always pet boarding houses or kennels you can put your dog into.

    Yes, it’s painful when they die-that’s what happens when you love your pet. They give you many, many years of pleasure before that.

  • arthur


    October 7th, 2011 at 3:25 AM

    pets are a great way to live alone yet have constant company.lets see-they don’t require ‘commitment’ as against a partner,they don’t need tuition fee as children do and most importantly do not back-stab their friend like humans can!

  • Jacqueline Spence

    Jacqueline Spence

    October 8th, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    My neighbor got a little chihuahua after her doctor advised her to get a dog so she would have a reason to get out of the house. She’s doing great since she got that little dog! We used to hardly see her and now she’s out walking with it three or four times a day. It’s helped her lose weight and with her depression. Every home should have one!

  • Sally Phelps

    Sally Phelps

    October 8th, 2011 at 7:48 AM

    If you’d like to be more social but are shy about approaching people or joining groups, a dog is a wonderful ice-breaker. Every day when I take my pug, Pugsy Malone, to the park I can be guaranteed that at least one person will stop me to chat about him and ask if they can pet him. He’s so ugly they can’t resist smiling at him. :)

  • PhilippaQuinn


    October 8th, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    @Sally Phelps: That’s so true! Dogs naturally attract passer-bys. I’ve had some very interesting conversations and met loads of nice people because of my Chi-Chi. Some had their own dogs and others were just dog lovers. The elderly especially like to reminisce about their own dogs they’ve had over the years.

    When I take her out, I’m careful that I never do it when I’m rushed, because somebody somewhere will want to scratch her ears! :) It helps that she’s a very friendly dog and loves everybody.

  • Pet Links

    Pet Links

    June 7th, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    The benefits of pet ownership are well documented through some university studies. Companionship, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar (from increased exercise) to better physical condition of the body are just a few of the documented benefits. People apparently feel more obligated to exercise their dogs than they do to exercise themselves. There are direct health benefits from owning dogs PLUS most of the time they are just fun to have around.

  • Situs J.

    Situs J.

    March 4th, 2015 at 3:58 AM

    That is a good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!

  • gidget


    May 13th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    Fluffy, small, and sweet,
    curled up asleep. A friend
    walks by. Hi! Let’s play!

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