The Science Behind Why Pets Make Us Happy


  • Pets and Happiness
  • Mental Benefits
  • Physical Benefits
  • Maximize the Benefits

The benefits of spending time with a pet extend much further than simply bringing a smile to our faces. Their company is known to have wide-ranging mental and physical health benefits, all of which contribute to making us feel happier and more fulfilled. Many studies have documented these incredible effects and even more are underway to pinpoint exactly what makes this bond so special.

What Science Says About Pets and Happiness

So what is it about our four-legged friends that make us feel so warm and fuzzy? One theory is that spending time with a pet stimulates the release of oxytocin in people. Oxytocin is a hormone released in response to positive physical interactions. Once released, it has many benefits including reducing stress and anxiety, decreasing sensitivity to pain, increasing empathy, promoting bonding and nurturing behaviors, and improving self-confidence. All of these effects can lead people to feel calmer and happier when they around their favorite furry or scaly roommates.

The activities people engage in with their pets lead to even more physical and mental health benefits as having a pet can alter one’s lifestyle in many great ways. Our pets also study us and become experts in our habits; have you ever seen your dog or cat run to the door before you even put on your shoes or coat to leave? They are so attuned to our body language and behaviors that they can appear to read our minds, making us feel ever more connected.

The Mental Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

The presence of a pet can have many positive influences on a person’s mental health. This can be from your own pet or even interactions with a therapy pet that visits hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or any other setting where people may need a dose of snuggles.

  • The joy of seeing an adorable animal and the physical touch from a furry hug are known to reduce anxiety and sadness.
  • For children, living with a pet has also been shown to strengthen self-esteem, expand vocabulary, improve speech, and provide a valuable, consistent form of attachment that may help to reduce anxiety.
  • Dog owners also benefit from increased social interactions as a result of walking their dogs, which often leads to meeting more of their neighbors and other dog owners. The “chore” of walking a dog multiple times a day may be just the extra push some people need to get out of the house and meet new people. These interactions help to enrich people’s lives and reduce feelings of loneliness.

The Physical Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Physical and mental health are often very intertwined, so it is not surprising to discover that pets can improve our physical wellbeing as well. When people have good mental health, it often helps aspects of their physical health, too. Many of the benefits of having a pet enhance both minds and bodies. Some of the physical advantages seen among pet owners include:

  • Lower blood pressure, decreased physical responses to stress, and even increased chances of survival after a heart attack.
  • Increased levels of activity and exercise with (multiple) daily walks, helping pet parents get those steps in when they may have otherwise stayed home.
  • This increased activity may help to improve and maintain mobility, prevent weight gain, and increase muscle tone, turning your furry friend into your personal trainer, too.

How to Maximize the Benefits of Pet Ownership

To get the most out of the human-animal bond, it is important to meet all of your pet’s physical and mental health needs in addition to your own.

Build a Positive Relationship With Your Pet

Building a positive relationship based on trust will ensure your pet feels safe and comfortable in your presence, which strengthens your bond with your pet. This includes everything from making sure your pet is in good health through routine veterinary check ups to ensuring your pet is properly groomed to prevent matted fur or overgrown nails.

You must also take steps to give your pet plenty of exercise and mental enrichment through play, socialization, and training, which provides mental enrichment as well as strengthening your bond. Showing your pet what you want from them through positive reinforcement with toys, treats, and lots of praise helps them meet your needs while also making sure they are having fun and getting a sense of structure to their day.

Choose the Right Pet For You

They key to a healthy, loving relationship between you and your pet? Choosing one that is a good fit for your lifestyle and personality. For example, for a person who works long days and travels frequently, a high-energy dog who needs hours of exercise and constant companionship is not a good match for either of them. For older adults or people with limited mobility, a lower energy cat or dog who does not need lots of outdoor exercise or frequent walks may be a great option. In a busy household with small children, a sturdy dog that is not afraid of noise and chaos is a must. Making the right match helps to reduce some of the stressors that can come with pet ownership when either the person’s needs or pet’s needs are not being met.

The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Beetz, Andrea, et al. Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 3, no. 234, 2012, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234
  2. Mossello, Enrico, et al. Animal-assisted Activity and Emotional Status of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease in Day Care. International Psychogeriatrics, vol. 23, no. 6, 2011, pp. 899-905.,  doi:10.1017/S1041610211000226
  3. Purewal, Rebecca, et al. Companion Animals and Child/Adolescent Development: A Systemic Review of the Evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 14, no 3, 2017, pp 234., doi: 10.3390/ijerph14030234
  4. Wood, Lisa, et al. The Pet Factor- Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support. PLOS One, 2015, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122085.
  5. Levine, Glenn, et al. Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk; A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, vol. 127, no. 23, 2013, pp. 2353-2363., doi: 10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829201e1
  6. Rault, Jean-Loup, et al., The Power of a Positive Human-Animal Relationship for Animal Welfare. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, vol. 7, 2020, doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.590867
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