Our extended family—4 health benefits of owning a pet

A woman hugs her dog.

If you’re thinking about adding a furry or finned friend to your life—you’re not alone. According to American Pet Products Association, about 70% of U.S. households own a pet.1 Some pets are more high-maintenance than others, but all animals may add meaning and purpose to our lives. Let’s take a look.

Enjoy unconditional love

Welcoming an animal to your home may be an easy way to enjoy the benefits of unconditional love. You’ll have a dining companion, a friend to share your day with and a pal to watch your favorite movies with. Also, pets are great listeners and will never judge you. Especially if you felt isolated throughout COVID-19, a pet may help you feel less lonely.

Reduce stress levels

Here’s something that’s been scientifically proven: Petting an animal can reduce your stress levels, according to SAGE Journals.2 When you’re playing with an animal, your body releases “feel good” hormones: oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin. And spending time with an animal lowers your cortisol, which is your body’s natural stress hormone.

May help manage anxiety

Just being around an animal may help you feel calm. Cats and dogs can tap into your mood. If you’re feeling sick, your pet might sleep by your feet. If you’re feeling anxious, your pet might lick your hands to try to cheer you up.

Stay active and get social

If you need an exercise buddy, there may be no better partner than a dog. Most dogs enjoy about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day, according to PetMD.3 Whether it’s a walk around a park or a fun game of fetch, both you and Fido may enjoy getting some fresh air. On your walk, some neighbors might ask you a few questions about your dog: their name, how old they are and if they can pet it. Walking a dog may be an easy way to socialize with others. (Pro tip: Put your dog in a sweater or funny costume to garner even more attention on your next stroll.)

You don’t have to own a pet to reap the benefits

There are many reasons to own a pet, but we know it can be a big lifestyle change. If it’s not something you’re ready for but still want to include a pet in your life, here are a few ideas:

  • Volunteer at an animal shelter.
  • Spend time with loved ones who have pets.
  • Offer to “pet-sit” for a friend, family or loved one who has pets.


  1. “Pet Industry Market Size, Trends & Ownership Statistics,” American Pet Products Association, last accessed November 19, 2021, https://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp .
  2. “Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” SAGE Journals, last accessed November 19, 2021, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2332858419852592 .
  3. “How Often Should You Walk Your Dog?” PetMD, last accessed November 19, 2021, https://www.petmd.com/news/view/how-often-should-you-walk-your-dog-37552 .