We pet lovers live longer. We’ve known for a long time that having a pet in our life brings great happiness. As the expression goes, “You can’t pick your family, except when you get a pet.” Science has begun looking into the why of pet ownership and what makes it so intrinsically valuable.
Research shows that the group of pet lovers receiving the greatest benefit from their pets is dog owners. Dr. Deborah Wells, a psychologist from Queens University, Belfast UK, says that it is not fully understood why dogs are so beneficial, even more so than cats or other pets.
"It is possible that dogs can directly promote our well-being by buffering us from stress, one of the major risk factors associated with ill-health. The ownership of a dog can also lead to increases in physical activity and facilitate the development of social contacts, which may enhance both physiological and psychological human health in a more indirect manner," Dr. Wells said in an interview with England based dog magazine, K9 Magazine (K9 News).
In fact dogs, more than any other pet, require people to become more active. Dogs need to be walked and to go places which encourages exercise in people. Often times on a walk, people encounter other people and other dogs which encourages contact with other people. Both exercise and contact with other people create a healthier person.
Cats, birds, fish and other pets also give physical and psychological benefits to those who live with them. Repeated studies have shown lowered blood pressure, lowered stress levels, and less depression in pet owners compared with non-pet owners.
The US Department of Health found that 28% of heart patients were able to survive a serious heart attack if they owned a pet compared with only 6% for non-pet owners.
They also found that having a pet is as effective for blood pressure control as a reduced sodium diet or limiting alcohol. Lastly, a US survey of 1,000 Medicare recipients found that 40% of elderly patients who own pets are less likely to request the services of doctors (Ontario Veterinary Medical Association).
Dr. Bernhard Pukay, a practicing veterinarian in Ottawa, Ontario says that veterinarians see the benefits of pet ownership in their clients everyday.
"Humans have a very real need for the type of companionship that only animals can provide. This becomes immediately obvious when you see how attitudes change and faces light up with smiles when puppies or kittens are introduced into senior’s residences and hospitals," said Dr. Pukay (Animal Health Care).
This understanding of the human-pet bonding process and why pet lovers live longer has created many programs for pet therapy. These programs have brought dogs and other pets into nursing homes, hospice care, school programs, as well as anywhere else a pet therapy dog may be required.
Therapy dogs canvassed Manhattan, NY in 2001 offering support to those involved in the aftermath of 9-11 and the World Trade Center tragedies. Nursing homes and school districts all across the world are bringing in resident therapy pets. School counselors often use dogs to get children to open up about their problems. Teachers use them to encourage children with reading difficulties to read aloud to dogs.
The question of why pet lovers live longer is a good one because the power of pets is amazing. We receive far more from them than we can ever give back. They wind down our world and make it less stressful; they encourage us to get up off that couch and take a walk; they give us unconditional love like no human can.
Animal Health Care. ca. Pet Owners Live Long and Healthy Lives, accessed February 1, 2009.
http://www.animalhealthcare.ca/contents/content_careguides2.asp?get=faq&id=98&category=25. K9 Magazine. K9 News.
Dog Owners Happier, Healthier & Live Longer, accessed February 1, 2009.
http://www.k9magazine.com/viewarticle.php?sid=15&aid=1773 Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.
Live Longer-Own a Pet, accessed February 1, 2009. http://www.ovma.org/pet_owners/ownership_benefits/live_longer.html.