Pets can be a hassle, but like me, you’d probably feel lost without that little creature who drives you crazy. Aside from the obvious upsides — a purring cat or a dog playing with his cherished stick — there’s growing evidence that pets can help people live a healthier, happier life. Whether they’re official therapy animals or mere amateurs, pets can bring out our best. And as an added benefit, they can save us big money by doing so.
Here’s a look at some of the financial and health benefits of pet ownership:
Lower blood pressure
It might be hard to believe when your dog has dug up your garden or your cat is shedding all over the sofa, but owning a pet can be good for your blood pressure — and your heart. For one example, a 2013 study of 32 pet owners published in Anthrozoos found that blood pressure dropped a few points whenever the owners were around their dogs. (In this study, being around a cat reduced the bottom number of blood pressure but not the top number.)
Also in 2013, the American Heart Association issued a statement that owning a pet — especially a dog — is likely associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Given the expense of doctor visits, medicine, and even heart surgery, your pet may be saving you tens of thousands of dollars right there.
Owning a dog gives you an automatic motivation to get out and walk, and those trips around the neighborhood can really add up. A 2017 study of older adults wearing step trackers found that dog owners took, on average, 2,750 more steps each day compared with a matched group of non-owners.
This echoes an earlier study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health showing that dog walkers are much more likely to meet federal minimum fitness goals than non-dog walkers.Since research has linked daily exercise to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other serious (and expensive) ills, imagine how much money your terrier may be saving you by insisting on those interminable walks.
Who’s a good dog? The furry volunteers who visit hospitals and nursing homes, for starters. Animal-assisted therapy programs have shown over and over again that ill and aging people deeply appreciate even a brief encounter with a friendly animal. For the seriously ill, actually owning a pet can be even better than an occasional visit.
A 2017 study of older Swiss people who had suffered hip fractures, published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, found that people who considered themselves caregivers — whether they were caring for animals, plants or other people — recovered better in the first six months. Since rehabilitation is costly, your pet isn’t just protecting you from the mailman — he’s guarding your wallet.
A dog or cat also doesn’t carry the risks or side effects of many medications or treatments. But they do have downsides. For one, pets can be expensive. A 2016 report from Harvard Health notes that a pet can easily cost $1,600 a year. They may need pet insurance. But as other studies suggest, your pet may be saving tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on your own medical bills over time. So a PetRx may be the best thing for your health — and your wallet.
If you do decide to get a pet, choose one that fits your lifestyle. An intelligent, high-energy border collie isn’t going to be happy spending most of every day alone in a small apartment. But the right pet in the right situation can be a great addition to your life — and you don’t need a study to prove that.