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.
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.
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
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. 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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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
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