The pandemic renewed humanity’s love affair with pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership rose from 67% of households to 70% in 2021 alone. Pet owners reached out to pets at a time of immense trauma and strain, to provide them with much needed comfort. Over the pandemic period, research has affirmed our intuition that pets not only help with psychological well-being, they also have clear health benefits.
How Has Pet Ownership Helped Pet Owners?
Research on the bond between pets and their owners has soared in the last two years. Many pet owners report feeling less lonely, having a stronger emotional support system, enjoying better overall health, since getting a pet.
Nevertheless, the science is still at its infancy. Although humans have had pets since the dawn of time, research on those bonds is very limited. Pet owners believe that they are enjoying better overall health, but when researchers have tried to measure that, they have not witnessed any changes in their stress levels in terms of feelings of depression.
Studies show that dog owners who walk outside frequently enjoy better health outcomes. Having a dog forces these owners to exercise, improving their overall health.
However, other studies found that pet owners are more stressed out and depressed than non-pet owners. Here, it’s important to understand individual situations. A socially isolated person may benefit from owning a pet, taking it to the animal hospital, taking it for walks, looking after it, and playing with it. However, a person who is juggling lots of commitments may find that owning a pet increases their stress levels, rather than decreasing them.
For lower-income households, pet ownership may be a huge financial burden. The cost of providing veterinary care and looking after a pet’s general needs, may be too large when weighed against the challenge of looking after the household. This adds another level of nuance in terms of the benefits of pet ownership.
Every day, we are getting new research on pets and their impact on the health of pet owners. In time, we can hope that the nuances of the health benefits of pet ownership will become much more clear.
Should We Really Make Pets Responsible for Our Happiness?
It has to be said that pets should not have the burden of making humans happier, less stressed and less depressed, while also providing companionship. In the end, pets can only help human beings so much. Treatment for mental health issues ultimately depends on seeing a specialist and discusses those issues with them.
The pandemic was a massive event and pet ownership alone cannot possibly deal with all the health ramifications of it. We have come to expect too much of pets, rather than simply enjoying their presence.
We should also trust in those benefits that people say they experience from having pets. Pets may not lead us to nirvana, but science cannot wholly discount the subjective experience of people. Let’s enjoy our pets without expecting them to solve all our health problems.