The Health Benefits of Pets
by Ursula Cunningham
Many of the benefits of pets — companionship, affection and so on — have been well known for centuries — even numerous ancient Egyptians cherished their companion animals. However, data gathered during only the last few years have shown just how significantly our health is improved if we share our lives with animals.
A study undertaken in 2002 by the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition and United States Food and Drug Administration revealed that the heart rates and blood pressures of pet owners increased less when the individuals were presented with math problems to solve if their companion animals were present.
Another study, one conducted by the United States National Institutes of Health during 2001, showed that people who have pets not only “make fewer doctor visits, especially for non-serious medical conditions,” but are more likely to be alive one year after being treated for a coronary condition.
Several recent surveys of individuals sharing their lives with pets have revealed that most of them are convinced their health is improved by having animals around.
Ninety-two percent of the respondents to a survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) during 2002 indicated that they derive significant health benefits from their pets.
In addition, of the respondents:
- 76 percent stated their stress levels are reduced by their companion animals
- 65 percent indicated their mental health is improved by their pets
- 31 percent stated their physical fitness has been improved by their providing of exercise for their companion animals
A survey undertaken by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) in 2000 yielded results very similar to those obtained by the AAHA.
Eighty-eight percent of the senior citizens who responded to the APPMA survey indicated that “pets make their family or home life healthier, either emotionally or physically.” In addition, 79 percent of all of the respondents stated they believe “pets help to create a healthier balance…with the increasing presence of technology” in homes.
“People feel that having a pet — a real being to care for and be with — helps balance the cold influence technology can have on a home,” according to APPMA Communications Director Funda Alp.
“Pets are…more than just a member of the family — they are central to a healthy lifestyle,” according to AAHA President Link Wellborn.
I couldn’t agree more.
Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
The unique bond we share with our pets dramatically enriches our lives, our physical health and our emotional well-being. Many studies have shown that while we are taking care of our pets, our pets are taking care of us.
- Pets Help to Lower Blood Pressure. A recent study at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that people with hypertension who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did those who did not own a pet. (Dr. Karen Allen, State University of New York at Buffalo)
- Pets Help to Reduce Stress. Walking with a pet helps to sooth nerves and offers instant relaxation. Studies conducted worldwide have shown that the impact of a stressful situation is lesser on pet owners, especially males, than on those who do not own a pet. (Josephine M. Wills, Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, United Kingdom)
- Pets Help to Prevent Heart Disease. Because pets provide people with faithful companionship, research shows they may also provide their owners with greater psychological stability, thus a measure of protection from heart disease. (National Institute of Health Technology Assessment Workshop: Health Benefits of Pets)
- Pets Help to Lower Health Care Costs. People with pets actually make fewer doctor visits, especially for non-serious medical conditions. (National Institute of Health Technology Assessment Workshop: Health Benefits of Pets)
- Pets Help to Fight Depression. Pets help fight depression and loneliness, promoting an interest in life. When seniors face adversity or trauma, affection from pets takes on great meaning. Their bonding behavior can foster a sense of security. (Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship)
© 2003 Animal News Center, Inc.