In honor of National Pet Day, we will be covering how your pets can improve your life.
Pets bring joy to our lives (yes, dog lovers — even cats). Need more proof than the gleeful smile on this child’s face?
Snuggling next to my kitties while their furry chests softly rumble is a proven antidote to the day’s stress.For me and millions more, having a pet brings a circle of love into our lives — they give affection, we give it back and all of us are the better for it.Science agrees.”I have a list of 10 health benefits [that] studies have shown pet owners have,” said psychologist Harold Herzog, a pet-loving professor at Western Carolina University who has long studied the human-animal connection.
“Higher survival rates, fewer heart attacks, less loneliness, better blood pressure, better psychological well-being, lower rates of depression and stress levels, fewer doctor visits, increased self esteem, better sleep and more physical activity,” are just some of the recorded benefits of pet ownership, Herzog said.But here’s a shocker …Herzog also points to studies that found pet owners “are more likely to be lonely, depressed and have panic attacks, more likely to have asthma, obesity, high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, migraine headaches, and use more medicine, et cetera.”
Before adopting a new pet, make sure that it is the right one for you and your family. Do some research beforehand about the specific needs of the animal. Ask yourself these questions before getting a pet:
- How long will this animal live?
- What does the pet eat?
- How much exercise does the pet need?
- How large will it become?
- How much will it cost for veterinary care?
- Do I have enough time to properly care for and clean up after the pet?
- What type of habitat does this pet need to be healthy?
- What type of exercise does this pet need?
- Are pets allowed in my house, apartment, or condominium?
- Are there young children, older people, or people with weak immune systems who will care for or be around the pet?
What’s going on?
As often occurs in science, studies have had mixed results. Some research shows benefits to having a pet, other studies say there’s no difference between the health of those who do and don’t own pets. Still more research suggests there could even be negatives about pet ownership (and we don’t just mean picking up poop from the yard).
That’s right. Despite the fact we’re convinced of the blessings our fur babies bring to our lives, science has yet to definitively prove that pets are good for our health.”A lot of us who have pets think, ‘Oh, they must be sort of uniformly good for us’, said Megan Mueller, co-director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction and proud owner of a dog and guinea pig.”We’re finding is it is a little bit more complicated than we originally thought,” she added.”I always say that it’s not a great question: ‘Are our pets good for us?'”It’s who are pets good for, under what circumstances, and is it the right match between the person and the pet?”
Pet owners certainly believe their pets provide emotional support, especially during times of stress, Mueller said, and thankfully science appears to back that up.”There’s some research that shows having a pet with you during an anxious event could help reduce the stress of that event,” she said.”Studies have shown repeatedly that people’s good mood increases and bad mood decreases around pets,” Herzog said. “And so we know that there’s immediate short term benefits, physiological and psychological, with interacting with pets. I have no doubt about that.”
Dogs and cardiovascular health
An analysis last year of nearly 4 million people in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom found dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in dying from any cause. If the person had already suffered a heart attack or stroke, having a dog was even more beneficial; they were 31% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.The study has been criticized for not controlling for other diseases, social economic status and other factors that might confound the results.
Still, another large study published around the same time found people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after suffering a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke. The benefit was highest for dog owners who lived alone. Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared tosurvivors who did not own a dog. Stroke survivors living alone with a dog had a 27% reduced risk of death.Of course these cardio benefits are just for dogs — not cats, horses, gerbils and the like. Many suggest its the potential exposure to exercise that explains the benefit: The American Heart Association points to studies that found pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.But in a previous interview with CNN, Dr. Martha Gulati, who is the editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology’s patient education platform, said the jury was still out on why.