There is no shortage of research about the health benefits of having a pet. The National Institutes of Health tell us that pet owners have lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, better survival rates following heart attacks, and better stress coping skills. Dog owners get more exercise than the average American, have better mobility, and develop better social ties. Being around pets we love increases the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which creates a sense of tranquility and pleasure. Scientists say the current body of research is just the tip of the iceberg in exploring the extraordinary power of pet therapy.
The Chicago Tribune cites a 10-year study at the University of Minnesota Stroke Center, which found that cat owners were 40 percent less likely to have heart attacks than non-cat owners. Researchers explained that mother cats purr to calm their kittens – but a growing body of research suggests they also purr to calm us too.
The Atlantic mentions a number of studies showing the power of pet therapy. For instance, a 2007 Queen’s University Belfast study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that dog ownership increased physical activity, social contacts and mental health.
Psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University report that the mental benefits of pets include a reduction in loneliness and illness, as well as an increase in self-esteem and activity levels. Also, the University of Pittsburgh found that a wandering dog in waiting rooms reduced pain by 23 percent and emotional distress by 32 percent.
In 2009, the Loyola University Health System presented their findings that adults who use pet therapy while recovering from total joint-replacement surgery require 50 percent less pain medication than those who do not.
A 2011 Michigan State University study discovered that dog walkers were 34 percent more likely to meet federal benchmarks on physical activity. Researchers admitted it was obvious that dog owners would walk more, but they were surprised to find that “There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking.”
James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that babies who were exposed to pets early on were 14 percent less likely to be allergic to pets or have eczema. They had higher levels of immune system chemicals, which shows that exposure to animals leads to stronger immune response.
The health benefits of having a pet are quite numerous. However, it is important that you do your research before bringing an animal into your home. Many pet owners end up biting off more than they can chew if they underestimate the costs, time, or amount of care associated with having a well-adjusted cat or dog.
To Your Health!