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Pet ownership: Do it for your health!

Pet ownership: Do it for your health!

If you own a pet chances are you already know how much they improve your quality of life, but unconditional love isn’t the only benefit you get from hanging with a companion. Pet ownership provides a variety of benefits to both your mind and body and for people of all ages.

1.) Allergies

A study conducted by pediatrician James Gern on the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later showed that infants living with dogs were less likely to show pet allergies (19% vs. 33%) as well as reduced frequency of eczema, indicating stronger immune system reaction1.

2.) Lower blood pressure

Studies performed by both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute of Health indicate that pet ownership lowers triglyceride and cholesterol levels as well as decreased blood pressure compared to non-owners2. A study conducted in 2001 showed that pet ownership also lowers blood pressure in response to mental stress. This is thought to be due to the social support that a pet offers its owners as well as assisting with reducing their owners stress levels3.

3.) Depression

Playing with and petting your dog can increase dopamine and serotonin levels, chemicals associated with pleasure1.Many people take drugs to increase these levels, but you can raise them just by petting your dog. Pet ownership can combat isolation, a common cause of depression. Having a routine of feeding, watering, and walking your dog can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Surveys conducted by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found that 74% of pet owners said having a pet improved their mental health.4  

4.) Exercise

Pets can act as your personal trainer. The NIH studied over 2,000 adults and concluded that dog owners are less likely to be obese due to their responsibility of walking their pet5.BMC Public Health published a study which found that dog owners walked 22 minutes more per day on average compared to non-owners, with most of that walking occurring at moderate intensity cadence. Studies by the Berkeley National Laboratory have concluded that brisk walking can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes as much as running.6

5.) Reduce healthcare costs

Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) performed an economic analysis and estimated that pet ownership saves $11.7 billion in U.S. healthcare costs. This is largely due to a lower incidence of visits to physician offices by pet owners compared to non-owners, with 132.8 million pet owners in the US visiting a doctor 0.6 times less than the average non-owners7.

6.) Social Life

Pet ownership can help with social interaction and connecting with your community. A survey of over 2,700 owners in Perth, San Diego, Portland, and Nashville reported that being a pet owner was the third most common way that owners met people in their neighborhood8.Pets can be a natural conversation starter (what is your pet’s name? What breed? Etc) and gives you a reason to visit your local parks where other pet owners congregate. There are also many online communities and meet-ups (dogster.com, catster.com, etc) that allow you to interact with fellow pet owners and build potential friendships.

7.) Pain reduction following joint replacement

Therapy dogs have been found to reduce patients pain levels and increase their levels of satisfaction with hospital stays following joint replacement. This study showed a 15 minute visit with a therapy dog before physical therapy resulted in reduced perceived pain scores (2.4 average on VAS versus 4.1 for patients who did not interact with a therapy dog)9. This shows the potential benefits of pet interaction and ownership with pain coping following joint replacement.

8.) Fibromyalgia pain

Therapy dogs have been shown to reduce Fibromyalgia pain related symptoms. Fibromyalgia patients in the waiting room of an outpatient clinic were divided into two groups; one with 12 minutes of therapy dog interaction and one without any dog interaction. Clinically meaningful pain relief (greater than two points in pain severity reduction) occurred in 34% of patients following therapy dog interaction versus 4% in the control group. Significant improvements were also reports for mood and other measures of distress following therapy dog visit10.

9.) Social behaviors of Autistic children

Owning pets can help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A 2013 study concluded that children with Autism displayed increased social behaviors (talking, looking at faces, tactile contact) with other children and adults in the presence of animals (guinea pigs) compared to toys. They also demonstrated more positive, prosocial behaviors (laughing, smiling) and reduced negative, self-focused behaviors (crying, frowning) in the presence of animal compared to toys11.

10.) Survival rate following heart attack

Pet ownership is associated with increased survival rates of people with coronary artery disease. Friedmann studied the 1-year survival rates following heart attack between pet owners and non-owners using 87 owners and 282 non-owners. They found that owning a pet is a significant predictor of survival (of 87 owners, 1 died vs. 282 non-owners, 19 died) one year following heart attack and can be extended to those with coronary artery disease12.

Whether you’re young or old, living with a newborn or seniors, the benefits of owning a pet can help nearly everyone! Call your local animal shelter and start looking for a new best friend!

 

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REFERENCES

1. https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/health-benefits-of-pets#1
2. Allen, K., Shykoff, B. E., & Joseph L. Izzo, J. (2001). Pet ownership, but not ACE inhibitor therapy, blunts home blood pressure responses to mental stress. Hypertension, 38, 815-820.
3. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/
4. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/pets-depression#1
5. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/12/532625213/dog-owners-walk-22-minutes-more-per-day-and-yes-it-counts-as-exercise
6. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walk-Dont-Run-Your-Way-to-a-Healthy-Heart_UCM_452926_Article.jsp#.WlZAW1WnHIW
7. https://habri.org/docs/HABRI_Report_-_Healthcare_Cost_Savings_from_Pet_Ownership_.pdf
8. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pets-can-help-their-humans-create-friendships-find-social-support-201505067981
9. Harper CM, Dong Y, Thornhill TS, et al. Can therapy dogs improve pain and satisfaction after total joint arthroplasty? A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research® 2014;473(1):372-79.
10. Marcus DA, Bernstein CD, Constantin JM, et al. Impact of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Outpatients with Fibromyalgia. Pain Medicine 2013;14(1):43-51.
11. O’Haire ME, McKenzie SJ, Beck AM, Slaughter V (2013). Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57010. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057010
12. Friedmann, E., & Thomas, S. A. (1995). Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST). The American Journal of Cardiology, 76(17), 1213-1217.

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Daniel Burke, PT, DPT
Daniel's hobbies and interests include painting, graphic design, snowboarding, basketball, cooking, and spending time outdoors
Daniel Burke, PT, DPT

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