How Pets Are Good For Your Health

I realise this post is a little out there! I told my sister about starting the blog, she liked it and said ‘can you write something about pets being good for you’! She’s the greatest animal lover I know. So here I am, with the evidence to back up that warm happy feeling you get when you walk through the door after a busy day to a frantically wagging tail (I’m unashamedly a dog person, as the dog on the beach above shows!).

Cardiovascular health:

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Owning a dog is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk in those who live alone, with the risk of a heart attack being 11% lower than those without a pet dog 1. Whilst people who have owned or currently own a cat are 40% less likely to have a heart attack 2.

Physical activity:

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The Lancet Global Health Journal published a paper in collaboration with the WHO only this week about the shear (and scary) prevalence of physical inactivity3. Walking with a dog has been shown to increase physical activity 4 and even mobility in the home – this is especially important in the elderly where reduced mobility can lead to lost independence.

Stress:

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Stress management is finally becoming an acknowledged component to a healthy lifestyle. Pets reduce stress-related markers such as cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure 5 as well as fear and anxiety5. A mechanism for this has been proposed; that animal-human interactions lead to the release of the hormone oxytocin5. Oxytocin is also known as the cuddle hormone, no wonder it’s my favourite! It’s release when interacting with your pet is thought to be responsible for a true strong and caring relationship between you and your pet6.

Having a pet also helps to counteract loneliness7 which is a growing health issue, especially in the elderly. Social isolation is a growing issue, whatever your age. Pets have been shown to act as a magnet for social attention. Pets make someone feel you are more approachable, trustworthy and even more dateable8!

Amazingly pets can also reduce the stress surrounding exams for students, increasing the wellbeing9!

Mood:

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Pets have been shown to help in the treatment and prevention of even treatment resistant major depression10 and even PTSD11.

Immune function:

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Many parents I meet are concerned about the hygiene of having a pet with a newborn baby. As it so happens, it’s good for your immune system! Having a pet dog or cat as an infant reduces your chances of having allergies to pets and childhood asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis12.

The gut microbiome is all the trend at the moment! It appears that having pets can even boost these bugs! The director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago said in the New York times that ‘exposure to animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolise the neurotransmitters that have an impact on mood and other mental functions’13. Research into the interaction between animals and the human microbiota is, however, at an early stage.

So, there it is, pets really are good for you! Not everyone will be in a position to be able to properly care for a loving animal at this point in their lives, and I really advocate thinking deeply about getting a pet to ensure you can give it the care it needs before you dive into being a pet parent. But if you feel you are ready, or already have a pet and enjoy looking after each other, you’re looking after your health too it seems!

 

References:

  1. Mubanga, M. et al. Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study. Sci. Rep. 7, 15821 (2017).
  2. Cats Better Than Cholesterol Meds in Preventing Heart Disease! | Psychology Today UK. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/complementary-medicine/200808/cats-better-cholesterol-meds-in-preventing-heart-disease. (Accessed: 6th September 2018)
  3. Guthold, R., Stevens, G. A., Riley, L. M. & Bull, F. C. Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys with 1·9 million participants. Lancet Glob. Heal. 0, (2018).
  4. Christian, H. E. et al. Dog ownership and physical activity: a review of the evidence. J. Phys. Act. Health 10, 750–9 (2013).
  5. Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H. & Kotrschal, K. Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Front. Psychol. 3, 234 (2012).
  6. Dogs (and Cats) Can Love – The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/does-your-dog-or-cat-actually-love-you/360784/. (Accessed: 6th September 2018)
  7. Pets can help seniors stay happy and healthy | MNN – Mother Nature Network. Available at: https://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/pets-can-help-seniors-stay-happy-and-healthy. (Accessed: 6th September 2018)
  8. Pets are good for your health, and we have the studies to prove it. Available at: https://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/11-studies-that-prove-pets-are-good-your-health.
  9. Ward-Griffin, E. et al. Petting away pre-exam stress: The effect of therapy dog sessions on student well-being. Stress Heal. 34, 468–473 (2018).
  10. Mota Pereira, J. & Fonte, D. Pets enhance antidepressant pharmacotherapy effects in patients with treatment resistant major depressive disorder. J. Psychiatr. Res. 104, 108–113 (2018).
  11. PTSD & Trauma | HABRI. Available at: https://habri.org/research/ptsd/. (Accessed: 6th September 2018)
  12. Stokholm, J., Chawes, B. L., Vissing, N., Bønnelykke, K. & Bisgaard, H. Cat exposure in early life decreases asthma risk from the 17q21 high-risk variant. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 141, 1598–1606 (2018).
  13. Are Pets the New Probiotic? – The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/well/family/are-pets-the-new-probiotic.html. (Accessed: 6th September 2018)

 

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