The pet effect: Facts about the incredible human-animal bond

Do you ever notice how fulfilled you feel when you spend time with your pet? How your pet can inspire joy while also somehow helping you feel less stressed? Or maybe you are thinking of getting a pet hoping for companionship, affection and love? These and many more positives are the result of the pet effect, also known as the human-animal bond.

“Science supports that the pet effect is real for people of all ages,” says PetSmart Charities President Aimee Gilbreath. “However, you don’t need research to see for yourself the benefits a pet can bring a family. Adopting a pet is a life-changing experience. The human-animal bond is a profound thing and many people consider their pets members of the family and welcomingly embrace the many positives they provide.”

Aimee Gilbreath, President of PetSmart Charities, shares some of the top benefits and interesting facts about the pet effect:

Owning a pet has mental and physical benefits

Scientific evidence supporting the emotional health advantages of pet relationships is growing. Pets and therapy animals have been shown to help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and social isolation. For example, a study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Cohen Research Group found 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership and 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements from pet ownership.

Pet ownership reduces U.S. health care costs

About 80 million U.S. households have pets, according to the HABRI Foundation, and that pet ownership has saved the U.S. health care system an estimated $11.7 billion. The largest savings was determined based on a lower incidence of physician office visits by pet owners as compared to non-owners. Additional savings were calculated for increased physical activity for pet owners, such as dog owners who walk their dog five or more times a week.

Pets provide security during times of stress

A Purdue University study found animal-assisted therapies can help provide diversion from anxiety-inducing medical experiences, providing a sense of security, while also encouraging interaction and activity often critical for healing. Something as simple as an affectionate nuzzle or a wag of a tail from a therapy animal can decrease stress and anxiety for patients and the hospital staff. When at home, your own pet can provide a sense of security and peace to help manage stress and anxiety, too.

Pets provide companionship, especially during times of isolation

Companionship is a top reason people own pets. During times of increased isolation such as quarantine and social distancing, this is particularly important. An additional study by HABRI found that pets are part of the solution to social isolation and loneliness, a growing public health epidemic, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 85% of respondents agree that interaction with pets help reduce loneliness and 76% agree that human-pet interactions can help address social isolation, followed by 72% who believe that human-animal interaction is good for their community.

Organizations are stepping up to support pet ownership

Realizing the many benefits of pet ownership, some organizations are doing their part to support the pet effect. For example, PetSmart Charities is providing grants supporting nearly 4,000 animal welfare organizations across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico to provide shelter, socialization and veterinary care to homeless pets to prepare them for adoption, as well as providing resources to help keep pets and the people that love them together.

Since 2012, PetSmart Charities have committed nearly $4 million in grants to support change making local animal welfare organizations across North America.

The largest savings was determined based on a lower incidence of physician office visits by pet owners as compared to non-owners.

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