A man and woman playing with their dog in a kitchen.

If you’re spending more time than usual at home with your cat or dog, you may be searching for new ways to keep your pet mentally stimulated. But did you know that pets can also help your mental and physical health?

There are quite a few practical benefits to spending more time with your pets. Dogs and cats are scientifically proven to help our physical and emotional conditions. So it’s good to know that while your pet seems to make you feel good, he or she really is making you feel good.

Pets relieve stress

In 2012, the data made it official: even thinking about your pet could make you feel more positive in the moment. Multiple studies separated subjects into three groups: one was placed near a pet, the second was asked to think about pets, and the third wasn’t exposed to pets in any way. The first two groups were more positive about imagined goals and, when asked to perform difficult tasks, did so with lower blood pressure than the group that was sans pets. Just having your dog or cat on your mind puts you in a better frame of mind. Think about that the next time you’re Zooming with the office.

Pets force you to be healthier

Being stuck at home is a great excuse to park it on the couch and dig in for long sessions in front of the television. When you combine this tendency with fewer grocery visits and less discriminating diet choices as a result, it’s easy to see how your physical health could take a turn for the worse. But you know who isn’t interested in chilling with Netflix? Your pets. They see your increased presence at home as an opportunity for more walks, more fetch, more activity in general.

And the science backs up the thought. According to the New York Times, dog owners spend close to 300 minutes each week walking with their dogs, which is about 200 more minutes of walking than people without dogs. That’s 5 hours of physical activity; or almost 3½ hours more than non–pet owners. We can reasonably expect that gap to increase now that we’re spending more time at home with our pets. What are you going to do, let them stare at you with the leash in their mouths all day?

You literally feel better around your pet

In addition to less mental stress and better physical health, pets make you experience healthier emotions thanks to chemistry. Science Magazine reported that pets increase oxytocin levels in the brain. Oxytocin is a hormone most notably released when a mother gazes into a newborn baby’s eyes and vice versa. It creates a sense of trust and bonding between the two parties. The study reported in Science showed that when an owner and a pet gazed into one another’s eyes, oxytocin levels rose 130 percent in the dog and 300 percent in the person. The test results suggest that the bond between an owner and pet is similar to that between a mother and child.

Separate studies have shown that simply petting a pet releases the “feel good” hormones serotonin and dopamine in similar ways that snuggling children do to mom and dad. Gives new meaning to the term “pet parent.”

Pets are great co-workers

If you’re working from home for extended periods, pets offer additional benefits. They’re always happy to see you. They’re not likely to try to microwave fish for lunch, although they would if they could. If you do a lot of video conferencing, no one ever seems to get tired of surprise appearances by cats and dogs. They’re not going to rat you out for taking frequent breaks to go outside for fresh air. They encourage naps on the job. And as we’ve already established, just thinking about your pet can help you work through complex problems. Imagine what you can do when he or she is curled up on your lap.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.