We often see anecdotal statements that pets help to make owners healthier, but here are some studies that offer proof.
According to Dr. David Lipschitz, a leader in the field of geriatric medicine, “Studies on individuals of all ages clearly show that 15 minutes of direct contact with a pet reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate, improves sleep and reduces the risk of depression.”
Of course, most physicians recommend daily walking for overall health benefits, and dogs can strongly encourage their owners to take them out for some mutual exercise. Dr. Lipschitz is an empty nester who has discovered the benefits of dog ownership. He says, pet interaction “fosters nurturing, rapport, socialization, [and] entertainment.” Humans need physical contact and most dogs and cats love it. Pet contact is “safe, soothing and nonthreatening.”
Furthermore, Dr. Lipschitz says occupational and physical therapists find that pets often help their patients with muscle strength and range of motion. Animal companionship has proven to be beneficial by decreasing anger, stress and disruptive behaviors in nursing homes. Residents need less sedation and medication for agitated behaviors.
Most older people respond well to pets. Thus, many assisted-living facilities, condos and apartments allow pets to dwell with their owners. Forced relinquishment of a pet can be quite stressful and depressing for pet owners who move to places that won’t allow companion animals.
Some long-term medical-care facilities allow pet visitation because the staff recognize the healing and mood-lifting effects of animals.
As a wellness coach with an M.S. in counseling, Elizabeth Scott recognizes the importance of animals in stress reduction. She says that pet owners tend to get out and exercise more, which lowers stress while giving them the opportunity to meet other people. Dog walking often makes people “more approachable” which encourage pet owners to enlarge their social network of friends and acquaintances.
Scott says that pets are also an “antidote to loneliness.” Since pets provide unconditional love, they are sometimes better than people are for their listening skills and non-judgmental roles.
Another researcher interested in the value of having pets is veterinarian Dr. Jane Bicks, the Director of New Product Development for Life’s Abundance pet foods. Citing a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, following up 369 people during a yearlong study of those who had suffered an acute heart attack, only 1% of those with dogs died during the study vs. 7% of those without dogs, a greatly significant finding.
From a study done at the University of Leicester, Dr. Bicks reported that children six years old and under “develop[ed] social skills at an accelerated rate; … tend[ed]to have better coordination, improved confidence, superior communication skills and [were] less likely to have allergies!”
The benefits of pet ownership have long been suspected and anecdotally reported, but seeing the evidence is heartening and encouraging. If you don’t own a pet and are physically able to care for one and financially able to afford one, it could benefit you and a four-footed friend to establish a relationship.
Dr. David Lipschitz, “Lifelong Health with Dr. David: Animal Contact Yields Better Health, Less Stress.” Arca Max Publishing. Http://www.drdavidhealth.com/columns/details.php?id=419 . February 14, 2010. Retrieved 11-19-10.
Elizabeth Scott, M.S. “Health Benefits of Stress – How Owning a Dog or Cat Can Reduce Stress.” An About.com Guide updated Nov. 1, 2007, and reviewed by their medical board. Http://stress.about.com/od/lowstresslifestyle/a/petsandstress.htm . Retrieved 11-19-10.
Dr. Jane Bicks, “The Nature In Us: Pets Make Life Healthier.” April 29, 2010. Http://www.thenatureinus.com/2010/04/pets-make-life-healthier.html . Retrieved 11-19-10.