August 6, 2021

Can pets improve your health?

You may be surprised by all the ways the bond between you and your pets can boost your health and well-being.

When they purr, chirp, or woof their way into your heart, research shows pets can actually make your heart healthier — along with many other benefits.

Like many physicians, Han-chun Liang, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, believes having a pet can benefit your health in many ways. And he speaks from experience.

“Throughout my life, I’ve had quite a few pets,” he said. “I started with a goldfish when I was young, and then I got a hamster. My wife and I are on our fourth cat now, and we’re about to get our first dog. My 9-year-old daughter is so excited that she’s been sitting in the puppy pen we set up to test it out and reading dog training books to get ready.”

When people interact with their pets — by petting them, playing with them, or taking them outside for a walk — it creates a physical connection. “Feeling connected to others — whether humans or animals — triggers our physical and emotional reward systems and makes us feel less lonely,” Dr. Liang explained.

Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. They can also help reduce stress and anxiety. “Pets provide companionship without any judgment. When they look you in the eyes, you can be sure all they’re thinking about is you, because they wouldn’t be looking at you otherwise,” said Dr. Liang, laughing.

It’s important to remember that having a pet is a real commitment. “Taking on the responsibility for another living being is a serious matter,” he said. “But it can be a very good thing, especially for young people, because following through on commitments increases our confidence and sense of purpose.”

Learn more about Kaiser Permanente's approach to care that supports your total health — mind, body, and spirit.