What’s the best pet for your health?
Good news for pet owners: studies have shown that owning a pet can improve your quality of life, your health and boost your happiness.
“There is a lot of research that pets are beneficial to us, in many ways,” says Dr. Judy Woodburn, psychologist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Petting an animal can lower blood pressure and overall feelings of stress.”
But for someone considering a pet, you might wonder: which pet, a dog or a cat, has better health benefits for their owner?
According to the American Heart Association, dogs can help prevent heart disease in their owners. Dogs continually force people to partake in activities like walks, playtime, belly-rubs and feeding time. These small actions add up and have many benefits including keeping depression at bay, lowering both blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lessening the chance of a heart attack. The added activity can also result in weight loss, and this can lead to a boost in owner’s self-esteem and health, while adding structure and routine to owners’ days.
“Dogs are used to provide emotional support to people who deal with depression, anxiety, PTSD and with regulating emotions,” Dr. Woodburn explains. “Those who are traumatized can tell their experiences to a dog without fearing judgment or upsetting another human. Dogs keep secrets well!”
However great the benefits of dog ownership may sound, don’t run to the nearest shelter quite yet! Dogs require a lot of training, attention and care once they are brought into a new home. This can sometimes result in anxiety for an owner. And, if left alone at home for too long, dogs can get anxious and chew up cushions, get into the trash can or destroy furniture.
Cats, on the other hand, tend to require less attention and care, thus lowering their owner’s stress and anxiety level. According to the American Psychological Association, cats can help owners who have experienced rejection feel better. Like dogs, cats are also particularly good with helping owners cope with loss and get through the process of mourning more quickly. They offer emotional and social support during difficult times, as they can’t judge their owners, thus helping owners work out and sort feelings.
And like dogs, cats fulfill a need for companionship. According to one study, for women owners, having a cat in the house can be the emotional equivalent of having a romantic partner.
Although cats are more independent creatures and can be easier to care for, they do have some drawbacks that potential owners should keep in mind. They have claws that can scratch people, clothes and deface furniture: this can lead to expensive replacements or repairs. Their litter box must be maintained or there might be an unpleasant odor. Cats are natural predators and are known to bring pieces of their catches back into the house, which can lead to unwanted surprises!
Overall, both dogs and cats can improve mental and physical health in their owners, and studies have shown that those with pets live longer lives. Both help with the levels of serotonin and dopamine in their owners, which help to calm and relax.
“Pets often help people feel less lonely,” Dr. Woodburn says. “I have seen patients benefit from both dogs and cats.”
So which pet is better? That is up to you. Both dogs and cats require love, time and care, so before adopting one from the nearest shelter, be sure to weigh the pros and cons.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.