Get the Health Benefits of Owning a Pet Without Straining Your Finances

Lisa Gilmore interacts with her dog during the work day in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Lisa Gilmore interacts with her dog during the work day in St. Petersburg, Fla. Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

Breaking news: Pets make people happy.

OK, so that’s not really breaking news.

In fact, it doesn’t even seem like news.

But a new analysis of academic research suggests that pets are, in fact, good for your mental health — and we’re taking that as a sign that we should all have a furry friend to brighten our days, (situation permitting, of course).

However, while it seems like common knowledge that pets boost happiness levels, and while animal lovers everywhere can subscribe to the idea that a feisty pup or a snuggly kitten would be a welcome addition to the family, the decision to bring a new pet into your home is anything but simple.

Pets can be expensive, and adding a new little guy to the family is no small commitment. Food, toys and general care items can add up quickly. Throw vet bills into the mix and suddenly your precious, furry bundle of energy is a big-time expense.

But here at The Penny Hoarder, we love doing things that make us happy — and pets just so happen to make us very happy (and the research checks out!).

Here’s how to know whether it’s the right time for a pet — and if it is, we’ve got info on how to keep costs manageable so you and your pet can both stay happy and healthy.

How Pets Are Good For Your Mental Health

According to Medical News Today, a systematic review of multiple studies on the benefit of pets for people with mental health issues revealed what we all knew to be true: Pets make positive contributions to our mental health.

Dr. Helen Louise Brooks of the University of Liverpool led a team of researchers as they combed through more than 8,000 articles across nine medical databases. After narrowing their search down to 17 academic papers, the team looked at the effect of owning a cat, dog, hamster, goldfish or finch on people living with a mental illness.

The findings were pretty consistent: Pets were recognized for helping to ease feelings of distress, worry or loneliness and were often viewed as a source of unconditional love and support.

Additionally, many people said having a pet forced them to stay connected to the outside world and engage in physical activity. Dogs in particular were found to encourage social interaction. (An aside: Cats might encourage the opposite, but that’s just me and my personal experience talking.)

A participant in one study said feeling needed by an animal helped curb unhealthy thoughts, while another said the ability to care for a pet was the person’s best quality.

One study found that pets enabled people to keep a sense of “identity, self-worth, and existential meaning.”

In another study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that pets are good for kids and that having a dog was linked to a lower body mass index and could even “stave off anxiety” in children.

If nothing else, the article claims that keeping a pet offers a sense of “ontological security,” which Medical News Today describes as “the feeling of stability, continuity and meaning in one’s life.”

(Note: Pets are excellent and supportive companions, but if you’re struggling with a mental-health issue, you may need a different form of help. You can find a list of free and low-cost mental health services here that will help you get started if you’re seeking treatment.)

The Finances of Pet Ownership

At this point, there’s no (or at least very little) question that having a pet can be beneficial to your mental health.

But you know what isn’t? Being stressed about money.

Here are some tips for keeping pet ownership affordable so you and your new furry friend can live a happy, healthy life together:

  • Before you adopt your pet pal (no matter what kind of animal) consider the big picture and make sure you have enough wiggle room in your budget to cover everything from adoption fees to regular replacement chew toys. This calculator can help you estimate the cost of a pet over its lifetime.
  • Be prepared for vet bills. Cats and dogs (and other, smaller buddies) can get sick or injured at pretty inconvenient times. Pet insurance is a great option for many pet owners, especially if you’re not too keen on being surprised with a whopper of a vet bill. If you decided against pet insurance and you’re facing a scary number for that emergency surgery, don’t panic: This guide to dealing with a hefty vet bill will help you decide the best course of action. And if you want to keep costs low from the get-go, consider adopting one of these dog breeds — they generally require fewer trips to the vet.
  • If you wind up in a tight spot and are worried about feeding your pup, these resources can help. You can find more tips on how to keep the kibble coming in this guide that features tips for everything from stacking coupons on cat supplies to how to make your own pet furniture (if you’re feeling adventurous).
  • If you’re craving the company of a pet but don’t have the resources to commit to a lifetime of puppy love, consider fostering a furry friend. Most foster programs will provide food, toys and veterinary care at no cost to you.

However you choose to welcome a furry friend into your life, just make sure you’ve considered the commitment from all angles. You don’t want to make an impulsive decision only to realize that you can’t handle the financial burden of bringing home a new little buddy.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.