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On National Pet Day, Celebrating the Health Benefits of Our Furriest Friends

April 11, 2022

After a long day at the office, pet owners feel the love as soon as they turn into the driveway when a little head pops up in the front window, whole-body wags or feigned indifference indicating the pet’s excitement. With each pass of your hand over their fur, each step taken on an evening walk, each snuggle on the couch, the stress simply melts away. Today is National Pet Day and unconditional love from your furry, feathered or scaly friend is just one of the benefits to pet ownership. “At Hartford HealthCare, we have long recognized the benefits of pet ownership and the positive role they play in the mental and emotional health of our patients,” said Eric Secor, ND, chief of integrative medicine at Hartford Hospital. Dr. Secor referred to recent research, published in the journal Aging Mental Health, showing the positive influence pets have on older adults in particular. Pet owners experience improved physical and mental health, including:

  • Increased opportunities to exercise and get outside.
  • Expanding sense of purpose and meaning.
  • Weight loss from all that exercise.
  • Increased chance to socialize.
  • Reduced stress.
  • Lowered blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Higher release of endorphins, which boosts happiness.
  • Lowered feelings of depression and loneliness by providing companionship.
  • Improved sleep.
  • Enhanced memory.
“The study also shows these benefits increase resilience in older adults against mental health disorders. This can positively impact their health outcomes in general,” Dr. Secor said. The importance of pets in collective health, he continued, is also reflected in the popular pet therapy programs at hospitals across Hartford HealthCare, which were temporarily suspended during the pandemic with visitor restrictions. “Our patients have commented that our therapy dog volunteers were greatly missed during COVID,” Dr. Secor said, noting that the programs are slowly reopening and therapy animals are returning to the hospitals to visit patients.