Can Pets Help Keep us Healthy?

By Marie Parks


Do you talk to your pet as if it were a person? If you have ever done this, it truly feels like the animal understands what you’re saying. Whether they fully understand us or not is up for debate, but researchers are uncovering some amazing health benefits that are attributed to our furry (or hairless) friends.

A quick search on Google using the search term “pets” produces thousands of books and articles covering everything from how pets see only certain colors and have a supernatural sense of smell, to how best to train and breed them. However, a whole new area of research has popped up — the study of pets and their influence on human disease and longevity.

Owning a pet is associated with various health benefits. The benefits that are of the most interest to the medical community are: 1

  • Helping people lose weight
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Improving mood and relieving anxiety

Pets Can Promote Well-Being

Not only are they cute and fun, many pets are considered a part of the family. Pets have shown to provide love and loyalty to their owners. The sense of companionship to a pet can have positive impacts on individuals of all ages, such as teaching children responsibility.

However, this human-animal bond may be even more important as an individual gets older. A study on older females showed a decrease in the negative relationship between loneliness and general health among those who were attached to a pet.2

Pets can provide increased opportunities to meet and interact with other people, which can be especially important for people living alone.3 Also, a one year study done on Medicare enrollees conveyed that those owning pets were able to better handle stressful life events, such as the loss of a job or a loved one.4

Can Pets Help Us Lose Weight?

We’re all aware that the number of individuals who are overweight is on the rise, and this shows to be increasing at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the age at which individuals are being classified as overweight is decreasing — meaning younger people, especially teenagers, are heavier today than ever before.

This is significant because obesity is the underlying factor for many diseases and conditions. While poor diet and lack of exercise are the major culprits behind the obesity epidemic, certain other lifestyle behaviors factor into the equation.

For example, pet owners with energetic dogs tend to be more active than people with lazier breeds or no dogs at all. Several research studies have shown that dog owners quite simply walk more and have higher levels of activity compared to people without dogs.5,6,7 Increased physical activity, such as walking, not only helps with weight control, but has also been associated with a decrease in the risk for fractures.8

Bone fractures are a common occurrence among elderly individuals, especially women, and can result in potentially lethal health issues. Could it be that one day your doctor prescribes a dog for better bones and healthy weight? It’s really not that far “fetched” at all.

Pets are Good for Your Heart

The research is pretty clear: People with pets have healthier cholesterol and blood lipid measurements, as well as lower blood pressure.9 One particular study even showed that pet owners were less likely to die following a heart attack than patients without pets.10

Owning a pet can bring not only joy but also better health to your life. Pets do not judge you and they offer unconditional love. The peace of mind that comes from owning a pet cannot be measured in any study.

Do you have a pet? If so, tell us all about your “best friend” and the benefits you gain from such an amazing life companion.

References

  1. Jennings LB. Potential benefits of pet ownership in health promotion. J Holist Nurs. 1997 Dec; 15(4):358-72.
  2. Krause-Parello CA. The mediating effect of pet attachment support between loneliness and general health in older females living in the community. J Community Health Nurs. 2008 Jan-Mar;25(1):1-14.
  3. Beck A., Meyes N. Health enhancement and companion animal ownership. Annu Rev Public Health. 1996;17:247-57.
  4. Siegal, Judith M. Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1990 Jun;58(6): 1081-1086.
  5. Raina P, Waltner-Toews D, Bonnett B, Woodward C, Abernathy T. Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 Mar;47(3):323-9.
  6. Serpell J. Beneficial effects of pet ownership on some aspects of human health and behaviour. J R Soc Med. 1991 Dec;84(12):717–720.
  7. Thorpe, R. J., Simonsick, E. M., Brach, J. S., Ayonayon, H., Satterfield, S., Harris, T. B., Garcia, M., Kritchevsky, S. B. and for the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study (2006), Dog Ownership, Walking Behavior, and Maintained Mobility in Late Life. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 54: 1419–1424. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2006.00856.x
  8. Feskanich D, Willett W, Colditz G. Walking and leisure-time activity and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2002 Nov 13;288(18):2300-6.
  9. Arhant-Sudhir K, Arhant-Sudhir R, Sudhir K. Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: supporting evidence, conflicting data and underlying mechanisms. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2011 Nov;38(11):734-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1681.2011.05583.x.
  10. Friedmann E, Thomas SA. Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST). Am J Cardiol. 1995 Dec 15;76(17):1213-7.

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6 comments:

Brad said...

Correlation is not causation... perhaps active people are more likely to own pets? To say that pets are good for your heart is not science, it's copywriting.

Life Extension said...

Hi Brad. It's not conclusive, but there is good science supporting the hypothesis. You should definitely check out the references for yourself. And thanks for reading the post.

Anonymous said...

I am 70, a recently (November of 2011) widowed lady. I don't know what I would do without my 3 dogs...1 female Chihuahua, 1 female ChiPug, and 1 20 year old male Chihuahua. They keep me moving even when I don't want to and console me when I am sad. The elderly male is my guard dog and don't you forget it...lol He takes his job very seriously. Probably time to put him down, he has COPD & has started to urinate in the house. Can't do it... I took him out of a terrible situation when he was one and he has guarded me ever since. I love my dogs and my husband loved them also.

Life Extension said...

Thank you for sharing your story. We love our pets too!

Nurlyla said...

i used this info for my presentation next week. Thanks a lot.

LifeExtension said...

Nurlyla- Glad we could help!

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