That furry friend isn't just a good cuddle buddy (although he's great for that, too)!

Karla Walsh
June 07, 2021
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Dogs and cats have been finding a lot to love-and scoring a lot of love-since the COVID-19 pandemic began and many more humans were craving companionship during the lonely lockdown. There's even a new term for dogs adopted in the past 16 months or so: "pandemic puppies."

And this trend isn't just a blip; about one in three Americans polled by the pet sitting company Rover in October 2020 had welcomed a cat or dog into their home since March 2020, and a January 2021 Rover follow-up discovered that 49% of Americans got a new dog during the pandemic.

Pets make excellent and loyal companions, to be sure, but they're also a boon for the owner's health, reports the American Heart Association (AHA). So with the rapid rise in pet ownership in the U.S., they launched a program called #BestFriendFridays, in which they're asking people to share photos and videos on social media about how their furry pals have helped them improve their physical and mental health.

These wellness wins aren't just anecdotal, AHA pros confirm.

"Having a pet has been shown to combat stress, boost happiness and encourage healthy habits like regular physical activity," says Glenn Levine, MD, professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of the cardiology section at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston and lead author of the AHA's Scientific Statement on Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk. "Staying active and reducing stress can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, like heart disease and stroke, and keep your pet healthy as well. It's a win-win."

In case you're on the fence about inviting a new pet into your home, or simply need a reminder of how great Fido or Fluffy truly are (perhaps after they dumped their food dish all over-hey, it happens!), read on for the science-backed health benefits for humans, according to cardiologists:

A puppy in the cutout of a heart
Credit: Getty Images / 101cats

Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

  1. Pets make work way more fun. Research shows that pets in the workplaces (an office or WFH setup) might reduce staff stress levels, improve employee satisfaction and boost productivity.
  2. Pets inspire you to move more. Even on days with the worst weather conditions, dog owners are about 20% more active than their pet-free peers, and spend about 30 minutes fewer each day being sedentary, according to a 2017 study in the British Medical Journal.
  3. Pet owners stress less. Those who see, talk to, touch or even simply hear their pets nearby experience more joy, feel nurtured and notice a sense of goodwill, all of which may suppress stress hormones, lower heart rate and reduce blood pressure, per a 2013 study published in the journal Circulation.
  4. Dog owners are less likely to have heart attacks and strokes. A 2017 study in Scientific Reports found that the social support and movement motivation dogs offer can reduce risk for cardiovascular disease among those who live alone. The entire dog owner population has lower risk for cardiovascular-related deaths and all-cause mortality compared to those who live in dog-free dwellings.

As a thank you to your pup for all those ticker perks, return the favor with a tasty, fun and veterinarian-approved "barkuterie" board.