Helping Our Pets Endure

 

BENEFITS OF OWNING A PET*

 

For many people, pets are an important source of love and friendship. It is also a well-known fact that pets are good for our health.


It's obvious that we benefit from taking regular exercise when walking a dog. However, it is not commonly known that over the last thirty years, there has been increasing scientific evidence that pets can help to keep us fit and well - pets can even help speed up recovery after major illness.

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

Promoting Health

A study at Cambridge University found that owning a pet produced improvements in general health in as little as one month. This continued over the 10 month study1. Pet owners were found to suffer fewer ailments, such as headaches, colds and hayfever.

Beating Stress

Stroking a pet or simply watching a fish swim in an aquarium helps us to relax. Indeed, the mere presence of a pet seems to have the same effect, reducing heart beat rate and lowering blood pressure.


Research has shown that this effect is particularly marked in people suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension). The reduction in blood pressure is equivalent to that gained by eating a low salt diet or cutting down on alcohol consumption.

Preventing Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the UK's biggest killers, yet it is another area where pets provide health benefits.
One study showed that keeping a pet significantly reduced levels of cholesterol and blood triglyceride (two factors believed to influence the disease). These effects could not be explained by differences in diet, smoking or socio-economic group
2. This fact, combined with the reduction in blood pressure from being with a pet, may make pet owners less prone to heart attacks than non pet-owners.

Overcoming Heart Disease

Pet ownership proved to be one of the best predictors of survival from a heart attack, according to an American study. The study showed that those patients who owned a pet had a much better chance of surviving for more than a year after a heart attack - a difference which could not be explained by the extra exercise the dog owners enjoyed3.


Pets can also offer a psychological and social boost to our lives:

Psychological Benefits:

  • Children who own pets are often less self centred than those who do not.
  • Psychiatrically ill people were happier as a result of looking after a pet.

Social Benefits:

  • Pets provide companionship and promote a general feeling of well being, for example pets in residential homes improve both patient and staff morale.

Pets can lessen the feelings of isolation and loneliness and provide a sense of purpose elderly people. Having to make the effort to care for a pet on a regular basis provides a feeling of fulfillment.

Ice breaker

Pets have been described as a social lubricant. Attending dog training classes, visiting the vet and walking in the park all provide opportunities to meet and talk to other people. Studies have shown that people walking a dog have far more positive encounters with others than those out walking alone, with the pet often providing a topic of conversation 4.

Educational Stimulus

As well as all the fun elements associated with owning a pet, pets can bring many educational benefits.

Owning a pet can teach a child about the responsibilities of life and mutual trust. By feeding and exercising a pet, children can also develop an understanding of daily care. Children with learning difficulties can also benefit from interaction with pets. One study found that the presence of a dog helped to channel the children's attention and responsiveness towards the therapist's suggestion - in effect, the dog helped increase the attention span of the children.

ENJOYING PETS

Pets provide us with loyalty, companionship, love and affection, as well as the many physical and psychological benefits. The least we can do to repay this is ensure that we keep them in the best of health by following the four golden rules to pet ownership (see overleaf).

A healthy pet is a happy pet and a happy pet can help us enjoy a much fuller and more rewarding life.

 

*Pet Health Council