Can Your Pet Keep You Healthy

Can your Pet Keep You Healthy?

For nearly five years Anna Lamb, 36, struggled with depression. She has sought help from doctors, taken various prescription and over the counter medications, vitamins, and an array of natural remedies all in an effort to control it. What has perhaps been the most welcome and effective antidote to combating her depression, however, came to her by chance in the form of a neglected, seven year old border collie named Mike. A friend of hers who is active in a border collie rescue group convinced Anna to bring Mike home and care for him."It was hard to live alone," she explains, "hard to come home at times. The only thing facing me was cleaning, the television, the computer, the telephone; no other living being. Mike has changed that…it's nice to come home and have him waiting for me. One of my classmates even told me a short time after I got Mike that my disposition changed...I seemed happier."

Researchers are working to determine whether or not there is any valid medical evidence to support what pet owners like Anna have professed all along; that pets make a positive difference in their lives.

Karen Allen, Research Scientist from the Department of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, specializes in research on the physiological effects pets have on humans. Her most recent study involved 48 stockbrokers, all of whom were being treated for high blood pressure. Allen chose people who had the means and desire to care for a pet, but did not have one. "I wanted to make sure these were very responsible people," she says.

When the study began, half of the participants were asked to acquire their choice of a cat or a dog. At the end of six months, the people in the pet-owner group remained significantly more stable during stressful times than those without pets. After the study was completed, and the participants were told of the results, Allen says, "They kept the animals, and in fact, at least half of the people [in the study] who got the drugs went out and got pets."

"One interesting finding that we seem to have discovered," Allen points out, "is that people who have the fewest social contacts seem to benefit the most. We think it's because pets substitute for a certain type of social support." And, because pets demand attention and exercise, quite often this makes their owners more active than their counterparts who do not have pets. This increased activity translates into health benefits such as less depression and anxiety, and increased social behavior, which alone has been proven to be beneficial to our health.

So, should you rush out and get a pet to improve your health? That all depends. According to Allen, people who benefit the most from having pets are those who view the animal as a cherished member of the family. You might remember Anna though, who has found a best friend and pseudo therapist in her dog. "He is very affectionate," Anna says. "Mikie looks at me with his big brown eyes and forces me to get up when I'm depressed. It's hard when he's asking me to save his life and let him outside but he also seems to care about how I I have someone to nurture." The truth is, Anna and Mike both have someone to nurture.


Learn more about the benefits of living with pets. Delta Society has known for years how pets can help keep us healthy and happy. They work primarily with people who have mental or physical disabilities, but their website has a lot of great info on how sharing our hearts and homes with pets can benefit all of us.