collage of images of people with their dogs

For many of us, our pets are family. From dogs or cats to birds and reptiles, our pets bring us happiness, companionship and a sense of purpose. Dogs specifically have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise, and improve your overall health.

With stress and burnout rates on the rise, having a furry friend waiting for you at home is scientifically proven to improve your mental and physical health. Plus, owning a pet can help you age in a healthy way.

Our experts break down the mental and physical benefits of having a pet.

Mental health benefits

Most owners would agree that a pet can improve your mental health in many ways. Their constant love, care, daily structure, and needs can fill us with purpose. The love and companionship they provide in a home is proven to:

  • Help reduce stress and anxiety
  • Ease feelings of loneliness
  • Provide unconditional love and support
  • Create a calming presence
  • Give a sense of purpose for pet parents

The responsibility of owning a pet can seem overwhelming, but it is a great way to add structure to your daily routine. Establishing healthy routines for a pet such as daily walks, healthy meals and active playtime provides many pet parents with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Pet ownership can also give us a push to better ourselves. If you can't or don't own a pet, even being around a family or friend's animal can benefit your mental well-being.

Physical health benefits

Did you know that over 60% of dog owners meet the recommended weekly amount of exercise? This means they get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Establishing healthy routines such as daily movement and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk of breast, prostate, lung, colon and kidney cancers. Walking your dog daily isn't just a good way to keep them healthy. It's also a reminder to make sure you get in your physical activity.

See 7 lifestyle tips to reduce your cancer risk

Your heart health can also benefit from pet ownership. Just the presence of animals significantly improves blood pressure. Pet owners typically have a lower resting blood pressure that people who don't own pets. Regular exercise, such as walking your dog, also lowers your risk of heart disease. While they love to bond with us, both you and your pet can benefit from the affection you give each other.

Whether it's a long walk or a 5-minute goodbye cuddle, both can be good for your heart in the long run.

See 8 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease

Healthy aging

Pet ownership can provide essential social and emotional support for older adults. Older adults who own pets report a reduction in stress and loneliness. They also experience an increase in activity and overall quality of life. Additionally, older adults who have strong connections with their pets report lower rates of depression.

In addition to promoting exercise and reducing stress, pets can also help older adults manage long‑term diseases like Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Pets can improve the quality of life for people diagnosed with these diseases by decreasing distress, loneliness, and depression.

Learn more about Healthy Aging at UC Davis Health

Pets have a larger impact on their owners' lives than you might realize. Whether you're going on a walk, spending quality time together, or scheduling your day around a furry friend, it can positively affect your health.

This blog was medically reviewed by Jane Sykes, Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Epidemiology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.