Since the late 1970s, scientific evidence has accumulated showing that pet ownership can have positive effects on people’s physical and mental wellbeing. This paper reviews the current state of affairs regarding the relationship between companion animals and human health, focusing on both the physical and psychological health outcomes related to human–animal interactions. Although designed to set the general scene on the link between animals and human wellbeing, research specific to older adults is highlighted where relevant. A particular emphasis is placed on disorders prevalent in modern-day society, notably cardiovascular disease and depression. The possible mechanisms by which companion animals might be able to enhance human wellbeing and quality of life are discussed, focusing on routes including, amongst others, the provision of companionship, social lubrication, and improvements to physical fitness. The role of the social bonding hormone, oxytocin, in facilitating attachment to our pets and the implications for human health is also discussed. Inconsistencies in the literature and methodological limitations are highlighted throughout. It is concluded that future human–animal interaction experiments should aim to account for the confounding variables that are inherent in studies of this nature.
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