As health care costs rise, pet owners find some unexpected relief in ailments with the help of their animal companions. The pet population nationwide has grown from about 40 million pet cats and dogs in 1967 to more than 160 million in 2006; and this doesn’t even count the birds, fish, hamsters, and other pets that share homes with their humans. About two-thirds of U.S. households now own at least one pet.
Studies support theories that pets offer much more than companionship. A relatively new field of studies; the connection between better health and pet owning is being looked at more and more. The findings so far, are in favor of pet ownership.
Cardiac, Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Effected in a Positive Way
It has been widely suspected that pets reduce stress and lower blood pressure. One study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) included 421 adults who had suffered heart attacks. The study took a look at them a year later and found those who owned dogs were more likely to still be alive than those who did not own dogs, regardless Credit: photo by Cheryl Weldonof the severity of the heart attack. Additionally, pets may actually lessen the risk of heart attacks.
Another NIH funded study involved looking at overall health of pet owners versus non-pet owners. In the study of 2,000 adults, the results showed dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who didn’t own or walk a dog. Another study funded by NIH followed 2,500 adults between the ages of 71-82, for three years. It found older dog walkers had greater mobility inside their homes than those who did not own or did not regularly walk their dogs.
Yet another study found when pet owners are compared to those with no pets, pet owners have been fCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonound to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, even when matched for weight, diet, and smoking habits.
Mental Health is Also Better in Pet Owners
Stress, anxiety, loneliness; all of these are reduced in pet owners when compared to non-pet owners. Stroking a pet can have a calming affect; even watching fish in an aquarium can be meditative. This in turn can reduce blood pressure, respiratory and heart rates and thus reduce stress and anxiety.
It is well documented pet owners find their pets help with social interactions in many cases. Research shows when walking a dog, people tend to make more eye contact and have more people interact with them. Shared experiences are talking points for those who are typically inept with social communication.
Pets' unconditional love gives their owners a sense of worth and responsibility. Pets can assist in teaching children empathy for others, how to nurture, responsibility, and assist in developing the ability for children to focus on something other than themselves. Pets help their owners through life transitions and trauma. There is an abundance of stories of pets’ lifesaving efforts of their owners.
Pet Therapy Gaining Popularity
Research supports the gaining popularity of using pets for healing purposes. Dogs and cats visit nursing homes bringing about healing to some of the elderly. Horses are beinCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldong used to help mentally ill or physically challenged children and adults with great success. More and more aquariums are found in waiting rooms for physicians and even dentists.
People seem to open up when they are around animals. Pet therapy encourages healing. Not only do owners benefit, but the patients do as well. Studies have shown some patients are able to reduce medications when they are involved in regular pet therapy.
Pets are not for Everyone
Although research supports pet ownership; it is understandable pets are not for everyone. Pets do require a varying degree of time and energy. However, the benefits can’t be denied. For those non-pet owners, visits with pet owner friends can be helpful. And it isn’t just the humans who benefit; research also finds well taken care of animals benefit from their owners as well. It seems to be a plus-plus all around.
Barker, SB; Dawson, KS. “The Effects of Animal-assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients.” Psychiatric Services. 1998; 49(6):797-801.
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holisticonline.com. “The Benefits We Experience When Pets (Animals) Are Beside Us” (accessed February 25, 2010)
healingwell.com. “Benefits of Pets in Healing.” (accessed February 25, 2010)
The copyright of the article “Pets Provide Significant Physical and Mental Health Benefits” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.