How Owning a Dog or Cat Can Reduce Stress

Woman playing with her dog on a couch

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When thinking of ways to reduce stress in life, usually techniques like meditation, yoga, and journaling come to mind. These are great techniques, to be sure. But getting a new best friend can also have many stress relieving and health benefits. While human friends provide great social support and come with some fabulous benefits, this article focuses on the benefits of furry friends: cats and dogs.

How Pets Lower Stress

Research shows that, unless you’re someone who really dislikes animals or is absolutely too busy to care for one properly, pets can provide excellent social support, stress relief, and other health benefits—perhaps more than people. The following are more health benefits of pets.

Improve Mood

For those who love animals, it’s virtually impossible to stay in a bad mood when a pair of loving puppy eyes meets yours, or when a super-soft cat rubs up against your hand. In addition to the social support, stress relief, and general health benefits pets can bring, research supports the mood-enhancing benefits of pets. A 2017 study found that those with AIDS were less likely to suffer from depression if they owned a pet.

Reduce Blood Pressure

Yes, it’s true. While ACE inhibiting drugs can generally reduce blood pressure, they aren’t as effective in controlling spikes in blood pressure due to stress and tension.

Research has concluded since the mid-1980's that there are positive physiological effects, especially lowered blood pressure, to petting dogs and social interaction with companion animals. Touch, the actual act of petting the dog, appeared to be the major component of the so-called pet effect.

Encourage Exercise

Whether we walk our dogs because they need it, or are more likely to enjoy a walk when we have companionship, dog owners do spend more time walking than non-pet owners, at least if we live in an urban setting.

Most people with dogs will likely tell you that they enjoy their walks more because of the companionship of their pets, and perhaps even the feeling of being part of a community of other pet lovers. Because exercise is good for stress management and overall health, owning a dog can be credited with increasing these benefits.

Provide Social Support

When we’re out walking, having a dog with us can make us more approachable and give people a reason to stop and talk, thereby increasing the number of people we meet, giving us an opportunity to increase our network of friends and acquaintances, which also has great stress management benefits.

Offer Company and Unconditional Love

Pets can be there for you in ways that people can’t. They can offer love and companionship, and can also enjoy comfortable silences, keep secrets, and are excellent snugglers. And they could be the best antidote to loneliness.

In fact, one study found that nursing home residents reported less loneliness when visited by dogs alone than when they spent time with dogs and other people. All these benefits can reduce the amount of stress people experience in response to feelings of social isolation and lack of social support from people.

Pets vs. People

While we all know the power of talking about your problems with a good friend who’s also a good listener, research shows that spending time with a pet may be even better.

One study showed that, when conducting a task that’s stressful, people actually experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a supportive friend or even their spouse was present. This may be partially due to the fact that pets don’t judge us; they just love us.

A Word From Verywell

It’s important to realize that owning a pet isn’t for everyone. Pets do come with additional work and responsibility, which can bring its own stress. However, for most people, the benefits of having a pet outweigh the drawbacks. Having a furry best friend can reduce stress in your life and bring you support when times get tough.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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