Did you know that keeping your pets healthy keeps you healthy?
People and animals have quite the history of living together and bonding in a relationship unlike any other. Perhaps the oldest evidence of this special relationship was discovered a few years ago in Israel—a 12,000 year old human skeleton buried with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6 month old wolf pup.
“The bond between animals and humans is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful,” says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The growth of the pet population has been growing increasingly in recent years, growing from 40 million pet cats and dogs in 1967 to more than 160 million in 2006. At least two thirds of U.S. households own at least one pet.
“The general belief is that there are health benefits to owning pets, both in terms of psychological growth and development, as well as physical health benefits,” says Dr. James Griffin, a scientist at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Healthy Benefits of Owning a Pet
Having pets in your home brings you many health benefits. Some of these benefits include relieving stress, lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and eliminating feelings of loneliness. Many people with pets are found to live longer after heart attacks, suffer from less depression and lead happier, healthier lives.
Several studies have shown that dog owners may get more exercise and other health benefits than the rest of us. One NIH-funded investigation looked at more than 2,000 adults and found that dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who didn’t own or walk a dog. Another study supported by NIH followed more than 2,500 older adults, ages 71-82, for 3 years. Those who regularly walked their dogs walked faster and for longer time periods each week than others who didn’t walk regularly. Older dog walkers also had greater mobility inside their homes than others in the study.
In addition, your pet may help you socialize and create less anxious situations. Walking with your pet can lead you to more conversations and helps you stay socially well connected.
While pets may help your socialization as an adult, there are also benefits throughout childhood. Many researchers have proven that children go to their pets as a trusted companion when they are upset, which proves the importance of pets as a source of comfort that helps children develop empathy.
In addition to helping children develop better emotions, there is also research to support the idea that kids with special needs can benefit from interacting with dogs. One of these benefits is that kids with autism develop their social skills by being social with dogs. Although there is little solid scientific evidence confirming the value of this type of therapy, clinicians who watch patients interacting with animals say they can clearly see benefits, including improved mood and reduced anxiety.