If we know our audience, we don’t have to convince you of all the compelling reasons to have a pet. Pets are adorable (always) and cuddly (sometimes). They make us laugh. They keep us active. They have been shown to reduce anxiety, improve heart health, and comfort those who have experienced trauma. Pets are there in moments when we might otherwise be alone.

So, it’s not surprising that most of us talk to our pets sometimes. We do it because it makes us feel good. Any pet owner has always known that. But it’s only recently that we’ve had research to back up these warm and fuzzy feelings.

Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. In fact, research has shown that when it comes to one’s health, loneliness is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Anything that can be done to alleviate feelings of loneliness can have a positive impact on overall health. That’s where pets come in.

Interacting with pets—and yes even talking to them—can help us create connections and form bonds that minimize the effects of loneliness. Think about it. When we talk to our pets, we do so without fear of being judged for what we say. Our pets don’t hold grudges. They provide us with unconditional love and teach us how to give back that love in return.

The feelings of acceptance and companionship that people gain from their pets have caught the eye of researchers and public health advocates. Earlier this year, Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) hosted the first-ever Summit on Social Isolation and Companion Animals, where they presented results from an online survey of 2,036 people. Some of the findings presented at that event included:

  • 54% of people say their pets help them connect with other people
  • More than 50% of people age 55 and over got their pet because they know it is good for their mental health
  • 73% believe assisted living facilities have a responsibility to incorporate pet interaction into their communities

Worth noting, the benefits of the pet-human relationship are a two-way street. Animals like dogs also long for companionship and connection. So, while they may not be able to carry on a conversation, know that your furry friend appreciates your little chats as much as you do.