Pets Can Make Apartment Life—and Our Lives—Better

Pets are people, too. Well, millions of Americans tend to think of our pets as people. We talk to them as if they are human. What’s certain is that pets are important to us.

According to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 67% of U.S. households, which equals about 85 million families, live with a pet. That’s a 56% increase from the first survey taken in 1988. Not only that, but we love our pets so much, we spent more than $75 million on them in 2019, according to another study.

The association’s survey broke the number of households into different kinds of pets. No surprise, dogs (63.4 million homes) and cats (42.7 million) were the most popular. Other pets included freshwater fish (11.5 million), birds (5.7 million) other small animals (5.4 million), reptiles (4.5 million), saltwater fish (1.6 million) and horses (1.6 million).

Assistive Animals lend a paw

Let’s not forget that millions of Americans rely on assistive animals. The California State Guide Dog Board estimates that there are 10,000 guide dogs in the country. Millions of people also have emotional support animals. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, emotional support animals “provide comfort just by being with a person,” which is different from service animals that are trained to perform a specific job or task and are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Why are Assistive Animals important? They give us companionship, reduce our stress levels and sense of loneliness, help us increase our social activities and also can lift a child’s self-esteem and positive emotional development. 

Dogs are especially helpful because of their keen sense of smell and because they can be easily trained. In addition to being family pets, they can protect property, serve as rescue animals and alert others when their human is in medical distress. 

Health benefits of pets

Any pet, though, can have a positive impact on our health, according to Dr. Dana Casciotti and Dr. Diana Zuckerman of the National Center for Health Research. One study measured changes in heart rate and blood pressure among people who had a dog or cat, compared to those who didn’t, and found lower resting heart rates and blood pressure among the animal lovers. When performing a math task, the animal lovers were also less likely to have spikes in their heart rates and blood pressure and made fewer errors when the pet was present. 

The doctors reported that another study found that having a participant’s dog in the room lowered blood pressure better than a popular blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitor). Just stroking a pet can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, according to another study.

Senior adults who have animal companions not only can get help for certain physical activities including climbing stairs, bending, taking medicine, preparing meals, bathing and dressing, but having a pet contributes to their emotional well-being and gives them a sense of responsibility and purpose.

Even unfamiliar (yet friendly, of course) animals can help ease anxiety, the doctors reported. One study found that when healthy children aged 3 to 6 visited a doctor for a routine physical, just having a dog unrelated to the child in the room lowered their blood pressure and heart rate and the child experienced less stress.

Research also has shown that for children without siblings, having a pet leads to the development of greater empathy, higher self-esteem and an increased participation in social and physical activities. 

Best pets for apartments

What are the best pets for apartments? Even though more U.S. homes may have dogs, people have more cats! The American Pet Products Association estimates there are more than 94 million cats living in the United States, compared to nearly 90 million dogs. Cats are great pets for apartments as long as they are giving the opportunity to play and exercise. The most popular cat breeds for apartments are Maine coon, ragdoll and exotic shorthair.

While many apartment communities have restrictions on dog breeds, which includes size and temperament, there are many breeds that are suitable for apartments. Many apartment complexes include dog parks for their residents. The most popular dog breeds for apartments are pug, French bulldog and poodle.

You can’t pet a fish, but many people like to have fish for pets. In numbers, Americans have more fish (158 million fresh and saltwater) than dogs or cats. Watching fish swim in an aquarium has been shown to lower blood pressure and stress, studies show, as well as helping ease hyperactivity disorders in children. Alzheimer’s patients with access to aquariums had improved appetites, needed less medication and had fewer violent outbursts. Popular freshwater fish for apartments include neon tetra, goldfish and angelfish. Popular saltwater fish for apartments include clownfish (thanks to “Finding Nemo”), Klein’s butterfly fish and hawkfish. 

Of course, there are many other pets, from rodents to rabbits, ferrets to furry spiders. And then, there are those of us who want the lowest-maintenance apartment pet: A pet rock. You can leave them for really long periods of time, you don’t have to feed them, they don’t annoy the neighbors, you don’t have to take them to the vet and, best of all, you don’t have to pay a pet deposit or fee!