Guest Blog: Road To Happiness: Can Our Pet Bring Us Happiness? - Professional Risk Management Services

Guest Blog: Road To Happiness: Can Our Pet Bring Us Happiness?

As part of PRMS’ ongoing commitment to mental health, we are pleased to feature Tarak Vasavada, MD, President of the Indo-American Psychiatric Association, Medical Director of Huntsville Hospital Behavior Health Services, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UAB School of Medicine and creator of the HappyMindMD website for healthcare workers. Dr. Vasavada shares more about the mental health benefits of owning a pet and how it can make people happier.

This may be one of my most challenging articles to write, as I have never had a pet nor intended to have one. A study by Harold Herzog published by Sage Publications on behalf of the Association for Psychological Science supports my dislike. However, coming to the USA, I realized that pets are essential to our lives. This article is dedicated to those who love their pets and may be eye-opening to those who constantly advise me to get one myself.

Note: Assistance dogs have expanded to help with numerous disabilities and conditions, including medical conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes, and mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This article is limited to pet ownership (PO) and human-animal interaction (HIA) and does not include assistance animals.

The Physical Health Benefits of Pets

Some of the most robust research evidence to date regarding the impact of companion animals on human health and well-being comes from examinations of pet ownership and cardiac health and physiological responses to stress in adults, as shared by Sharon Basaraba on Having a pet improves your autonomic function, including heart rate and blood pressure. Research also proved that pet owners are more likely to survive heart attacks and live longer. Older adult dog owners engage in significantly more walking than non-pet owners. The American Heart Association issued a scientific statement in 2013 suggesting that pet ownership, particularly dogs, may reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

It is worth noting that equally strong studies have not found any health benefits of having a pet.

Some studies show that when visited by a pet, patients had a better outcome in various cardiac tests. Animal Assisted Interactions (AAI) positively impacted the risk of falls, blood pressure, and hospitalization rates, and tended to reduce other stress indicators such as heart rate, muscle tension, and skin temperature.

Emotional Benefits of Having a Pet

The relationship between pet ownership and depression over the lifespan continues to have inconsistent and inconclusive findings. Positive findings on anxiety are limited by short-term studies only. In a recent American Psychiatric Association Healthy Minds Poll, pet owners reported that their “pets positively impact their mental health and cited several key benefits, including helping reduce stress and anxiety (69%), providing unconditional love and support (69%), companionship (69%), providing a calming presence (66%), and are true friends (63%).”

Those with depression as well as depression with dementia showed improvement in symptoms and quality of life. Having a pet interaction by therapy may reduce anxiety, and other recent studies on PTSD and ADHD show some positive impacts.

Effects of Pets on Happiness and Well-Being

Again, studies conclude mixed results. Some studies have found that dog ownership is associated with higher life satisfaction and greater well-being. In contrast, others show this is true only when the dog provides social support or satisfies the owners’ needs. A large-scale survey from 2006, found no significant differences in self-reported happiness between dog owners, cat owners, and non-pet owners.

Several studies indicated that pet attachment was associated with lower loneliness in older adults. Some studies point out the selection bias and report that lonely people are likelier to have a pet. Pet-assisted interactions did improve loneliness in assisted living.

In another study, frequent dog walkers were more likely to feel a sense of community and perceived health benefits.


Relying solely on your pet for support may not let one experience the personal growth that happens due to other coping mechanisms. Individuals who place human cognitive motivations on pets’ behavior and treat pets as people can negatively impact the animal’s welfare. Based on the Healthy Minds Poll, “pet owners were most worried about their pets aging or passing away (71%) and their pets’ health conditions (66%).” They “also worried about arrangements while traveling (56%) and healthcare-related expenses (58%).” Pets can be a source of allergies and stress for those with negative experiences and may cause emotional stress if they act out or cause conflict within your surroundings. The most significant disadvantage, in my opinion, is the amount of your valuable time pets require. A pet simply may not be suited to your personality.

And ultimately, many of the existing studies are minor in size, short-term, have poor selection bias, and do not keep other lifestyle functions in mind.

A few fun facts - 67% of people in the USA own a pet (dogs, cats, or other animals), and we spend around $123 billion/year on them. Dog and cat ownership have both increased since the pandemic. After reading this article, hug your pet.

For more information, please visit:

Dr. Tarak Vasavada


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