Posted by: glamielle | February 8, 2014

Health benefits of pet ownership

Oh wow…It’s been a while since I wrote something on here, I guess that’s what happens when you become busy with work…in a good way. But not to worry, I have a few topics in mind that I want to post about, one of which is the health benefits associated with pet ownership.

In a lot of my posts, I talk about the diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people (zoonoses) or other shared risks, frankly because that’s what interests me the most (I’m a nerd like that…). However as the One Health movement matures, it can explore different aspects of the human-animal-environment interface, such as the human benefits of animal companionship.

The positive effects of human contact with animals may not be directly measurable all the time, but what cannot be argued is that the human-animal bond plays an important role in these benefits. Some researchers have started to shed light on some of the ways we can use this relationship to benefit humans and animals alike.

Cardiovascular issues and obesity

Perhaps the strongest evidence of the benefit of human-animal companionship is when we look at two major chronic illnesses affecting humans: cardiovascular disease and obesity.

A recent article by the American Heart Association outlines several of the cardiovascular

(Image source)

(Image source)

benefits from owning pet. One of the most significant findings from many resources cited in this article is that animal owners have generally lower heart rate and blood pressure compared to others. In addition, when stressed, their heart rates and blood pressures returned to normal faster than in non-pet owners. One study even found that these effects can also be seen when people are exposed to “virtual animals”, through images or videos (so for your own health, click on this link…Doctor’s orders!).

There is also evidence that owning a dog can help reduce obesity rates in both people and their pets, generally from increased exercise. This makes sense because most dog owners engage in some sort of activity with their pets, such as jogging or hiking. Even a simple walk with a dog allow dog owners to reach more easily the recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day (for example three 10-min walk per day). One study mentioned in the American Heart Association article found that dog owners walked on average 300 minutes per week, compared to an 168 minutes in non-dog owners. The authors also added that the dog was the primary motivator for walking.

Obesity in people and pets is related  and, in the United States, about 50% of people’s pets are considered overweight. In an era where cardiovascular disease and obesity are on the rise in both people and their pets, it is clear that exercising with dogs can benefit humans and animals alike…and I don’t know that many dogs who are not willing to go for a walk (but be sure that you talk to your veterinarian before increasing your pet’s exercise – because some dogs may not benefit from increased exercise)

Other benefits

Community resilience & disaster preparedness

In addition to being more likely to engage in daily exercise, people who own dogs and walk them around their neighborhoods have more chances to interact and socialize with others in their communities. Knowing your neighbor can come very handy in the case of an emergency.

This idea is called community resilience and is an integral part of preparing for disasters. Indeed, should a major disaster occur, many response teams will be overwhelmed with helping people and it may take a significant amount of time for them to get to everyone and make sure that they are safe. In fact, a community is more likely to fare handle emergencies better if they know  and can rely on each other for survival.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT)

(Image source)

(Image source)

This is one aspect of One Health I am not too familiar with but researching the subject a little bit, I found that the examples particularly moving. An article published in 2009 summarizes some of the experiences in animal-assisted therapy (AAT), especially in regards to dealing with children. For example, animals reduce anxiety during therapy sessions.

In conclusion

In spite of the potential diseases animals and people can share, there are many benefits of owning pets and I cannot cover them all in a single blog post so I encourage readers to research more positive facts of pet ownership.

In fact, responsible owners who provide their pets with appropriate care dramatically reduce the chances of being infected by a zoonotic disease. This means keeping dogs and cats up to date on their vaccines and make sure they see a vet once a year.

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More information

World Health Organization (WHO) – Global recommendations on physical activity for health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Health Benefits of Pets

Determining if your pet is overweight – Body condition scoring (BCS) in dogs and cats

2020 Healthy Pets Healthy Families – Obesity

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention – Big Pets Get Bigger: Latest Survey Shows Dog and Cat Obesity Epidemic Expanding.

Nijland ML. 2010. Overweight in dogs, but not in cats, is related to overweight in their owners. Public Health Nutrition.

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Responses

  1. Nice posting. Thank you for sharing with us. Keep it up………
    migraine


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