Pet owners are healthy. Whilst it is difficult to understand how the presence of a pet can make us live longer, healthier lives than non-pet owners, research is discovering that this is the case…
One of the leading causes of death in the western world is cardiovascular (heart) disease and pet ownership may help reduce its incidence. Australian research has shown that pet owners have lower levels of risk factors, such as lower blood pressure, and are therefore considered to be less at risk of heart attacks and strokes.
People who own pets are also more likely to survive following heart attacks, especially dog owners. Effects like this are difficult to explain. Perhaps the daily maintenance routine gives people “something to live for” or the vocal and tactile aspects help. At the very least, a pet may help in distracting from physical ailments.
Exercise is good for us and dogs can certainly give us the motivation we need to get out and about. In fact people who walk dogs walk, on average, for longer than those people who walk alone.
Of course contact with a cat can also lower our blood pressure but probably only if we enjoy their company. Birds have the same effect when we interact with them and can contribute to significant improvements in health.
Pets could even save our country money as pet owners make fewer visits to the doctor. An Australian study also found that pet owners took less medication for high blood pressure, sleeping difficulties, high cholesterol and heart problems. A saving of between A$800 million and $1500 million was estimated if pet ownership increased.While these findings are impressive there is, as yet, no definitive explanation as to why our pets help us achieve better levels of health and wellbeing. There are so many questions that are still unanswered. For instance, previous pet ownership may be a factor in human health, the pet we owned in our teenage years contributing to our health in our retirement. It is also likely that the degree of attachment to the animal influences the health and well-being felt by the owner. Merely the act of owning an animal may not contribute to good health but the quality of relationship may be the all-important factor.
It has even been suggested that we may be considering the arguments in reverse. It’s not that companion animals make us more healthy but simply that healthier people are more likely to own pets. Time and more research will tell.
Pet ownership brings benefits such as:
- Health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lower stress levels and of course more exercise leading to lower obesity levels.
- Lower levels of depression and loneliness and better psychological health. Also pet owners visit the doctor less often.
- Social benefits – people talk to others who have pets, children with pets are more popular with their peers.
- Communication benefits – children learn empathy and communication skills from living with pets.
- Companionship – the reason most of us live with pets and children are the same. Children consider their pet to be a family member and they share their secrets with their pets.
- Unconditional acceptance of who we are. How many other friends and family members off this. Your dog or cat does not care if you have a bad hair day!
Enjoy your pet! They improve your health 🙂