How to Stay Healthy Around Pets and Other Animals | Healthy animals, healthy people

Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Pets

couple sitting in front of the lake with two dogs

There are many health benefits to owning a pet. They can increase opportunities to exercise, get out and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by providing us with companionship. In the United States, most households own at least one pet.

Studies have shown that the bond between humans and their pets is linked to several health benefits, including:

  • Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms.
  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities; better cognitive function in older people; and more opportunities to socialize

However, pets can sometimes carry harmful germs that can make us sick even if they appear healthy. Diseases that humans get from animals are called zoonotic diseases (zoe-oh-NOT-ic). Below are some tips to help you and your family stay healthy while enjoying pets.

Choose the right pet

Before adopting a new pet, make sure it is the right pet for you and your family. Do some research beforehand about the animal’s specific needs. Ask yourself these questions before getting a pet:

  • How long will this animal live?
  • What does the animal eat?
  • How much exercise does the pet need?
  • How big will it be?
  • How much will veterinary care cost?
  • Do I have enough time to properly care for and clean up after my pet?
  • What type of habitat does this animal need to be healthy?
  • What type of exercise does this animal need?
  • Are animals allowed in my house, apartment or condominium?
  • Are there young children, elderly people, or people with weakened immune systems who will care for the pet or be nearby?

Some people are at higher risk of contracting diseases that animals can transmit

Older adult couple walking a pet dog on a leash and holding hands.

Children under 5 years old, people with weakened immune systems, and people 65 years and older are more likely to contract diseases transmitted between animals and humans (also called zoonotic diseases). Pregnant people are also at higher risk of contracting certain animal diseases. Before getting a new pet, keep the following points in mind:

  • Households with children under 5 should not have pet reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes), amphibians (frogs, toads), or backyard poultry due to the risk of serious illness from the spread of harmful germs between these animals and young children.
  • People with weakened immune systems should take extra precautions when choosing and handling their pets. Talk to a veterinarian to help you choose the best pet.
  • Pregnant people should avoid adopting a new cat or handling stray cats, especially kittens. Cats can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis– a disease that can cause birth defects. If you are pregnant, you don’t have to give up your current cat, but you should avoid handling cat litter.
  • Pregnant people should avoid contact with pet rodents to avoid exposure to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which can cause birth defects. If you are pregnant and have a pet rodent, avoid direct contact and have someone else clean its habitat.

Get more information for people at higher risk of illnesses caused by animals.

Ways to Stay Healthy with Pets


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