National Geographic examines the evidence that pets help you stay healthy:
Among the established benefits is that pet/owner interactions can enhance one’s quality of life. Research shows that playing with a dog can improve one's mood, that reading to a pet can help children with learning development issues, that pets can lessen levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol in their owners, and that having a pet can increase one's physical activity levels, according to the American Heart Association.
There's also broad consensus on the mental health benefits that come from frequently connecting with another living thing.
"Having a non-judgmental confidant can serve to buffer the effects of stress on both physical and psychological health outcomes," explains Nancy Gee, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Despite such established benefits, there are cases in which pet ownership may get more credit than it deserves.
For example, Hal Herzog, an emeritus professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, says that people with pets have not been shown to necessarily fare better than non-pet owners during the pandemic as some believed, and that no research has demonstrated that "as a group, pet owners are happier than non-owners."
Possibly the most frequently overstated benefit of pet ownership is its impact on people who deal with clinical depression. In reviewing 30 peer-reviewed studies measuring an association between pet ownership and depression, Herzog says he found that 18 of them showed "no difference" in depression rates between pet owners and non-owners. "Pet ownership is not a particularly reliable predictor of depressive symptoms," echoes Mueller.
Here is my own non-judgmental confidant on Sunday, quietly judging me because I forgot the treat bag at home: