How Can Having Pets Improve Your Health? Let Us Count the Ways...
Having a pet can, at times, test your patience, particularly
when Fido has chewed up your expensive new boots, or Snowball
decides to meow up a storm at 4 a.m. Still, most pet owners
will agree wholeheartedly that pets give back much more than
they receive in the form of companionship and love.
Owning a pet can reduce your stress, loneliness and
blood pressure, while raising your self-esteem.
Indeed, the United States is a pet-loving nation, having
more dogs and cats than any other country, according to the
American Veterinary Medical Association. Most pet owners treat
their pet like any other member of the family, perhaps even
giving them special birthday and holiday presents and foods.
But here is another reason to spoil your pet (as though you
needed one): Owning a pet can actually improve the health
of its owner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), having a pet can decrease your:
Feelings of loneliness
But that's not all. K.C. Cole, RN, MN, director of UCLA's
People-Animal Connection (PAC), says she believes the human-animal
bond offers many social, psychological and physiological benefits.
PAC volunteers bring dogs to visit about 400 hospital patients
"Among other things, animals contribute to raising self-esteem,
significantly lowering anxiety levels, improving attitude
toward others and opening lines of communication," Cole
said. "With geriatric patients we see a bridge of communication
develop with staff and family when a dog visits."
Pets and Your Heart
Perhaps the most notable benefit has to do with heart health.
Several studies have found that people who have had a heart
attack survive longer with a pet than without.
Another study, by Karen Allen, PhD, a medical researcher
at the University of Buffalo, involved 48 stockbrokers with
high blood pressure. Those who owned a cat or dog had lower
blood pressure readings in stressful situations than those
"When we told the group that didn't have pets about
the findings, many went out and got them," Allen said.
Recovery After Illness
Other studies have found that people with pets tend to have
a speedier, easier recovery after illness or surgery. One
UK study of 50-60-year-old women recovering from breast cancer,
for instance, found:
87 percent reported that their pets filled "at least
one important role in their social support."
43 percent reported that their pets fulfilled more than
10 important support functions, such as being cared for,
tactile comfort, and still feeling included socially,
when they took their dog for a walk.
Kids and Pets
Many of us have fond memories of our first childhood pet,
and as it turns out, pets are just as good for kids as they
are for the elderly and adults. One five-year study of 600
children aged 3-18 found that children with pets who are slow
learners, or whose parents had divorced, had higher levels
of self-esteem and better emotional functioning than those
with no pet.
Children with autism and other learning and behavioral disabilities
also often show immediate improvement when pets are brought
into the classroom for animal-assisted therapy.
Further, kids who have a cat or dog in the home during their
first years of life are less likely to develop hay fever,
asthma and animal-related allergies than those who don't.
Better Overall Health
Research presented at the 10th International Conference on
Human Animal Interaction in October 2004 found that pet owners
simply experience better health than non pet-owners. The survey
of more than 11,000 Australians, Chinese and Germans found
that over a five-year period:
Pet owners made 15-20 percent fewer annual visits to
the doctor than non pet-owners.
Those who went to the doctor the least were those who
continuously owned a pet.
The next healthiest group was people who got a pet during
Though dogs and cats are most popular, any animal can
improve your health--especially if you feel an attachment
If you're still not convinced of the benefits of pet ownership,
other studies have found these additional health improvements
to pet owners:
A Dog, Cat, Bird ... or Dolphin?
So which types of pets provide the most health benefits?
Most commonly, dogs and cats are mentioned in the studies.
However, any animal has the potential to brighten your life.
Case in point, a study in a November 2005 British Medical
Journal found that people with depression who swam with dolphins
for an hour a day for two weeks reported feeling less depressed
than those who simply frolicked in the water.
But if you're looking for the most benefit, a pet of your
own (after careful consideration) may be the best route to
take. Said Mara Baun, D.N.Sc., professor at The University
of Texas School of Nursing at Houston, "People derive
the greatest health benefits from their own pet, or one to
whom they feel some personal attachment.
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