There are many health benefits of owning a pet. They can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship. Most households in the United States have at least one pet.
Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets is linked to several health benefits, including:
- Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD.
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities; better cognitive function in older adults; and more opportunities to socialize
However, pets can sometimes carry harmful germs that can make us sick even when the pet appears healthy. The diseases people get from animals are called zoonotic (zoe-oh-NOT-ic) diseases. Below are some tips to help you and your family stay healthy while enjoying pets.
Pick the Right Pet
Before adopting a new pet, make sure that it is the right one for you and your family. Do some research beforehand about the specific needs of the animal. Ask yourself these questions before getting a pet:
- How long will this animal live?
- What does the pet eat?
- How much exercise does the pet need?
- How large will it become?
- How much will veterinary care cost?
- Do I have enough time to properly care for and clean up after the pet?
- What type of habitat does this pet need to be healthy?
- What type of exercise does this pet need?
- Are pets allowed in my house, apartment, or condominium?
- Are there young children, older people, or people with weak immune systems who will care for or be around the pet?
Some people are at higher risk for diseases animals can carry
Children younger than 5 years old, people with weakened immune systems, and people 65 years of age and older are more likely to get diseases spread between animals and people (also known as zoonotic diseases). People who are pregnant are also at a higher risk for certain animal-related diseases. Before getting a new pet, keep the following in mind:
- Households with children younger than 5 years old should not have pet reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes), amphibians (frogs, toads), or backyard poultry because of the risk of serious illness from harmful germs spread between these animals and young children.
- People with weakened immune systems should take extra precautions when choosing and handling pets. Talk to a veterinarian for help picking the best pet.
- People who are pregnant should avoid adopting a new cat or handling stray cats, especially kittens. Cats can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosismdash;a disease that can cause birth defects. If you are pregnant, you do not need to give up your current cat, but you should avoid handling cat litter.
- People who are pregnant should avoid contact with pet rodents to prevent exposure to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which can cause birth defects. If you’re pregnant and have a pet rodent, avoid direct contact and have someone else clean its habitat.
Get more information for people at higher risk for illness from animals