Animals and Your Health: The Benefits of Pet Ownership

IMAGE You’ve had a horrible day. Your car was hit in the parking lot, you missed a project deadline, and you’re starving. You juggle your briefcase and keys, open the front door, and are greeted by a lop-sided grin and wagging tail. Laughing, you reach down and playfully tussle your Labrador’s head—all the worries melting away as you romp on the living room carpet. Ah, the joys of pets. There is no doubt that the companionship and love a pet can offer is a valuable thing. But, maybe the benefits of pets go beyond this emotional bond. A growing body of evidence suggests that those who keep pets are likely to benefit from a variety of improvements in health.

Benefits in Older Adults

One study of older men and women found that owning a cat or dog helped maintain or even slightly enhance their Activities of Daily Living (ADL) score. This scale included questions about being able to do activities like walking several blocks, getting in and out of bed, preparing meals, bathing and dressing, and preparing food. Though this study found no direct link between psychological well-being and pet ownership, people in this survey who owned pets and had lower social support in a crisis situation were less likely to experience a decline in psychological well-being when compared to those with lower social support who did not have pets. Pets can also help alleviate may of the problems associated with Alzheimer's disease and dementia . Researchers found that having a pet in the home reduced stress and anxiety-related outbursts. Benefits also extend to caregivers, who are under constant stress.

The Heart Health Benefits of Pets

Studies have shown that those who own pets may have significantly lower systolic blood pressure, triglyceride values, and cholesterol levels than those who do not own pets. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that male dog owners were significantly less likely to die within one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. These findings were significant, though you cannot generalize these findings to all people.

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