More on Human-Animal Interaction

Throughout history, the relationship between humans and pets has been one of the world’s most unique bonds. We have been sharing our lives with domesticated animals for more than 10,000 years.

This special relationship benefits both humans and pets, and goes beyond mere companionship. People see their pets as important members of their families; they are friends, playmates and protectors, providing love, security and joy to their humans. In turn, it is our responsibility to take care of our pets and provide them with loving, safe and happy homes.


The Benefits of Human-Animal Interaction

Our pets make us smile, but they can also make us healthier. Research suggests that interacting with pets helps people enjoy happier and healthier lives and strengthen communities ties. Whether it is increasing our level of physical activity, alleviating depression or improving a child’s sense of self-esteem, having a pet is good for you!

The benefits of pet ownership are both physical and psychological.

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General Health

  • Pet owners tend to visit doctors less often and spend less money on medication. (Heady et al 2007)

Physical Activity & Obesity

  • Numerous studies have suggested that dog walking is a great way of increasing physical activity and may help reduce rates of obesity. (Timperio et al 2008)

Heart Health

  • Having a pet reduces blood pressure and lowers the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. (Friedman et al 2010)
  • Pet ownership can also make a significant difference to the survival rates for heart attacks - 28 percent of heart patients with pets survive serious heart attacks, compared to only six percent without pets. (Friedman et al 2010)

Allergies and Asthma

  • Pets have often been implicated as a possible cause of asthma and allergies; however, growing up with a dog during infancy can help to strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of allergies linked to asthma. (Hesselmar et al 1999)


Stress Reduction

  • Pet ownership reduces stress levels, specifically in therapy sessions. (Baun et al 1991)
  • Pets are currently being used in Animal Assisted Therapy in a wide range of therapeutic and institutional settings.


  • For those who have lost a spouse, pet ownership and a strong attachment to a pet is associated with significantly less depression. (Garrity et al 1989)

Mental Health

  • People with pets feel less lonely than those without. Elderly people with pets generally live longer due to increased physical activity, socialisation and mental function.
  • Also, children who suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) are able to focus on a pet, which helps them learn how to concentrate. (Schoen et al 1996)

Improved Self-Esteem

  • Self-esteem is higher in children and adolescents who own pets. (Redefer et al 1996)

Increased Empathy

  • Children who grow up with pets demonstrate more empathy, are usually more popular with classmates and are more involved in activities such as sports, hobbies, clubs or chores. (Melson et al 1990)


  • Pet owners feel less afraid of being a victim of crime when walking with a dog or sharing a residence with a dog. (Serpell et al 1991)

In addition to the benefits to individuals and families, communities that foster pet ownership also enjoy significant advantages:

Increased Social Engagement

  • The presence of dogs increases the number and length of peoples’ conversations with others in the community. (Jenkinson et al 2010)
  • Also, pets in nursing homes increase social and verbal interactions among the elderly. (Fick et al 1993)

Social Cohesion

  • Pets help people connect and allow them to form closer bonds that underpin successful, healthy communities. Increased social cohesion facilitated by pets and pet owners leads to increased community spirit, less crime, higher wealth and higher levels of education. This is particularly true in neighbourhoods that foster communal areas such as dog parks, where pets and pet owners can socialise together. (Serpell et al 1991)

HAI Knowledge Documents


HAI References

Baun MM, Oetting K, Bergstrom N. Health benefits of companion animals in relation to the physiologic indices of relaxation. Holistic Nursing Practice. 1991:5;16-23.

Fick K. The influence of an animal on social interactions of nursing home residents in a group setting. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 1993:47(6);529-534.

Friedmann E, Thomas SA, Son H, McCune S. Pet’s presence and owner’s blood pressures during the daily lives of pet owners with pre-to-mild hypertension. Oral Presentation at the International Society for Anthrozoology’s 2010 Annual Conference, Sweden, 30 June 2010.

Garrity T, Stallones L, Marx M, Johnson T. Pet ownership and attachment as supportive factors in the health of the elderly. Anthrozoos. 1989:3(1);35-44.

Headey et al. Pets and Human Health in Germany and Australia: National Longitudinal Results. Social  Research Indicators. 2007 Jan:80(2);297-311.

Hesselmar B, Aberg N. Aberg B, Eriksson B, Bjorksten B. Does early exposure to cat or dog protect against later allergy development? Clinical & Experimental Allergy. 1999 May:29(5);611-7.

Jenkinson S, Harrop P. The UK’s first dog-human activity trail: increasing fun, health and fitness for people and their dogs. Oral presentation at the 12th International conference of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations, Sweden 1-4th July 2010.

Melson GF. Pet ownership and attachment in young children: Relations to behavior problems and social competence. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Delta Society, Houston, TX, 1990.

Redefer LA, Goodman JF. Pet-facilitated therapy with autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 1989:19(3);461-467.

Schoen AM, Proctor P. Love, Miracles and Animal Healing: A heart-warming look at the spiritual bond between animals and humans. Prentice Hall & IBD. 1996.

Serpell J. Beneficial effects of pet ownership on some aspects of human health & behaviour. Journal of Royal Science of Medicine. 1991 December:84(12);717-720.

Timperio A, Salmon J, Chu B, Andrianopoulos N. Is dog ownership or dog walking associated with weight status in children and their parents? Health Promotion Journal of Australia. 2008 April:19(1)

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