Most pet owners tell of the personal joy, satisfaction and amusement they get from a dog, cat or other critter that lives in the house. Whether showing affection, performing wacky antics or simply providing companionship, an animal is both a comfort and a and a friend. Yet these are subjective conclusions based on personal emotion and perception. What does empirical evidence say? In fact, scientific research demonstrates that pets foster improved overall health in their human caretakers. In terms of longevity, immunity to infections and heart health–among other indices–those with pets average better than those who live without such snimsls.
For one thing, a dog or cat can bolster the immune system. Take cats, for example. So often indicted for their allergen-filled dander, cats actually can contribute to allergy resistance when regularly exposed to infants and children during their first year. Findings by Danish physicians published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2018 assert that asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis were less likely among children living alongside cats in the earliest months of life. The subjects of the study were all children whose genetic make-up made such conditions more probable. This is ironic given the suspicion felines arouse when a child suffers respiratory distress.
Another advantage is related to physical fitness. When compared to those without animals to take care of, dog owners ranked higher in research conducted by the National Institutes of Health. Receiving more exercise, carrying less weight and exhibiting greater mobility, canine caretakers give evidence that dog-walking is a boon to overall strength and vigor. An additional study focused on senior citizens, with dog-walkers outpacing their pup-less counterparts in both walking speed and distance covered. Navigating their way around the house for various tasks was also easier for those with hounds to care for.
Among the largest factors that take a toll on health is stress. Implicated in hypertension, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, stress is a persistent and insidious agent of illness and death. The good news, according to one study by a group of European psycho-biologists, is that interacting with pets brings about a rise in the hormone oxytocin, which counteracts the effects of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Reducing fear and anxiety in college students nand senior citizens alike, playing with a dog or cat for as little as 10 minutes can produce greater serenity and lower the heart rate.
Best of all, the data is pointing to longer life spans for pet owners. Studying individuals from middle age to old age, Swedish scientists discovered that single men and women who lives by themselves lessened their risk of premature death by 33 percent when sharing their life with an animal companion. Also, heart attacks were 11 percent less likely for pet owners. Evidence also exists showing that having a pet benefits a person’s social life. Academics from California State University–Sacramento focused on wheelchair-bound people with and without service dogs. The former were more often acknowledged and spoken to than the latter.