Pets also improve people’s mental health.
In one Israeli study, scientists elevated participants’ stress levels by telling them that they might have to hold a tarantula. Then, to calm the participants down, researchers gave them either toy rabbits, toy turtles, real rabbits, or real turtles. The toys did nothing to relieve stress. But petting both the hard shell of real turtles and the soft fur of real bunnies calmed participants.
A survey of veterinary school students produced similar results. Investigators asked students to report their stress levels on a scale from one to ten, as well as whether they had a pet at home. Six in ten people who did not own pets reported stress levels of eight or higher; only four in ten pet-owners said that they were similarly stressed.
Another review of 17 studies found that pets helped people with mental illnesses — including post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.