Society widely acknowledges the significance of human-animal relationships, as they encourage a level of responsibility, nurturance, and connection with nature, but are pets good for our health? You bet they are, and while some of the reasons are obvious, ongoing research is finding a range of other physical and psychological human health benefits about which you may be surprised. Following are eight good reasons to own a pet, but there countless more.

 

Petting

Petting an animal is known to cause a drop in blood pressure in both the person doing the petting and the animal being petted. This is one of the more commonly known benefits of pet ownership, and anyone who has had their pet snuggle up for a scratch behind their ear or a gentle stroke of their fur, would know how calming it can be.  One of the reasons that petting an animal helps with feelings of reduced stress and relaxation is due to the effect it has of releasing oxytocin, a hormone linked to emotional bonding. During petting both the pet’s owner and the pet release oxytocin, which establishes a sense of calmness between them.

 

Dog walking

Dog walking is low-intensity, low-risk exercise, and it’s an excellent preventative measure against heart disease as it can help you to manage your weight, lower blood pressure and improve overall fitness.  In our sunny climate it’s also a great way to get your daily dose of vitamin D and help stave off osteoarthritis.

 

Ideally, dogs should be walked daily for about 30 to 45 minutes, and five times a week should be the minimum if daily walks aren’t possible. According to a University of Sydney study, 150 minutes of exercise per week is beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease, therefore the minimum weekly dog-walking target of 30 minutes, five times, satisfies this objective. The benefits for your dog of going for walks are similar, and include helping to relieve stomach troubles and constipation.

 

Companionship

This one should arguably go at the top of the list due to its significance, because according to a Swinburne University study more than one-fifth of Australians rarely or never feel they have someone to talk to or turn to for help, and more than one quarter feel lonely for at least three days every week. When directly asked how lonely they felt, 50.5% of Australians reported they felt lonely for at least a day in the previous week.

 

Pets are a great source of companionship especially to individuals who live by themselves, and with a trend towards more single-person households, pets are often a primary source of companionship for many people. Not surprisingly, singles are more likely to see their pets as family members because of the amount of support that their companionship provides.

 

Mood-boosters

Pet ownership can help people feel better about themselves and physical activity such as playing with a pet can raise dopamine and serotonin levels (feel-good hormones) and reduce cortisol (which conversely is released due to feelings of stress).  A study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that the elderly benefit significantly from pet ownership, with 82% reporting that owning a pet made them feel better when they were sad and 95% saying that they talk to their pets daily. Pets consequently play an important role for some people as boosters of self-worth and self-esteem.

 

Socialisation

Pet owners often socialise with other pet owners and pet ownership can provide a common interest for individuals that might otherwise think that they have nothing in common and make little or no effort to interact. Workplaces commonly have groups of workers who are known by the type of pet they own, for example, “the cat people”, and as such these people sometimes perceive other cat-owners in their workplace to be members of a reference group.  Animals can indeed be social ice-breakers, and studies have shown that it is easier to meet people if you have a dog.

 

Fewer allergies

This one may seem counter-intuitive, but pets can help us to avoid illness by encouraging the development of stronger immune systems, and exposure to a pet could mean that children are less likely to develop allergies and asthma. It was previously thought that if your family had a pet, the children were more likely to become allergic to it, and allergy-prone people should avoid pets. A growing number of studies show however that children growing up with "furred animals", whether they’re pet dogs, cats, or large animals such as those on a farm, actually have less risk of these health issues.

 

A Finnish research study observed almost 400 children from birth to one year, noting how much exposure they had to a family pet. The results showed that contact with an animal at an early age led to a stronger immune system which was better able to combat infectious respiratory illnesses.

 

Increased longevity

Numerous studies have reported that pet owners live happier, healthier, and longer lives, and one study showed that patients discharged from a coronary care unit had a better survival rate for the next year if they had pets at home, compared to those who didn't. The thought of having a pet at home provided comfort for those being discharged, and it is common to hear people returning home after an absence cite the reunion with their pets as the thing the look forward to most.

 

Diabetes protection

Diabetes can cause a drop in blood glucose levels and serious health complications. The changes in a person’s chemistry as a result of one of these events can be detected from a change in their scent, and some dogs have this ability. There are specially trained service dogs who have been taught how to respond when they recognise these dangerously low levels, and can consequently protect a person from a medical catastrophe. Sometimes dogs that are unsuccessful in their training as Guide Dogs are trained to become Diabetes Dogs.

 

Pets not only get the “paws up” when it comes to being loving and loyal pals, but also for the contribution they make to our overall health and wellbeing.  In a national study of pet ownership, Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) found that 5.7 million households had at least one pet. 

 

If you have any questions about the health and wellbeing of your furry, feathered or scaly-fleshed buddy, please get in touch with any of the Vets4Pets hospitals.