Health & Wellbeing

The health benefits of pets

Furry friends are more than just fodder for your Instagram; they can also have a positive impact on your health. In fact, the RSPCA reports that “ownership of cats and dogs saved approximately $3.86 billion in health expenditure over one year.”

Deciding to take on a pet can be a big decision, but in Australia it’s a popular one. We have one of the highest percentages of pet ownership in the world and in 2013 it was estimated that of Australia’s 7.6 million households, five million were home to pets. So it makes sense that our Facebook feeds are full of our animal companions.

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But furry friends are more than just fillers for your social media stream; they can also have a positive impact on your health. According to the National Centre for Health Research (USA) “animals may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and regulating the heart rate during stress.” This means pet owners are at a lower risk of heart disease or stroke, and are generally happier and less depressed than those who do not own pets.

One study, conducted by the School of Public Health at the University of California, also found that, statistically, pet owners visit doctor the less. This finding holds up in Australia too, with the RSPCA reporting “ownership of cats and dogs saved approximately $3.86 billion in health expenditure over one year.”


Dogs are the most popular pet option – and for good reason. Dog owners walk more and are better at making friends than people who don’t own dogs. A puppy tends to get people out of the house and into the dog park where conversations about training, grooming and doggy treats reign supreme.

Dogs have their owners out and about, clocking up good exercise without even noticing. Plus, dog lovers can hardly resist a pat and chat, so you never know who your dog might give you a reason to talk to.

“Pet owners experience greater well-being and exhibit healthier personality characteristics” –Researchers at Miami University


Cats are also fabulous animal companions – especially if you’re partial to a night in. Cats will curl up on the couch with you when you need some down time and will keep you company when you get sick.

Scientists say petting a furry animal like a cat releases a relaxation hormone and cuts down on stress. So if you’re under pressure at work, pushing to meet a deadline, or dealing with any kind of drama in your life, your cat will become your happy place. They’re like a therapy session, always at your fingertips.


If you don’t fancy yourself a pet person but still want to get all the health benefits of pet ownership, a fish is the perfect option. Fish are relatively low maintenance but still give their owners that warm fuzzy feeling we get from being needed.

Similar to cats and dogs, fish have a calming effect, but for a very different reason. Scientists say watching fish swim around in their tanks inspires tranquillity and – in the fast-paced, highly stimulating, modern world – watching your fish do its thing will focus your attention and give your brain a much needed time-out.


An in-depth research paper on the positive consequences of pet ownership found that even greater health benefits come from pets that satisfy your social needs. Birds are highly intelligent and always learning from their owner’s behaviour so they’re great company – without the need for constant attention like a dog might. Plus, they can learn to talk. You can’t get much more social than that.

Anything else

Researchers at Miami University say “pet owners experience greater well-being [and] exhibit healthier personality characteristics” than those who do not own pets. So whether it’s a dog, cat, rabbit, turtle, guinea pig, lizard or snake – owning a pet makes you a better, more rounded and healthier individual across the board.

Alix Palmer is a writer and cat owner based in Melbourne.

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