Are pets good for our health?

Anyone who owns a pet is likely to tell you about the positive impact that they have on their lives, with many claiming that they can help you to live longer. But is there any truth or evidence to back up the suggestion that pets can actually be good for your health?

Service Animals

Animals have long been helping people with practical tasks. Guide dogs have been assisting the blind for over 80 years and there are reports of dog helping to rescue people dating back as far as the 17th Century.

Service dogs can assist people in their homes, whilst walking along the road and at school and work. Their partnership with their owner helps visually impaired people to move around more freely and alerting deaf people to key noises, such as the doorbell ringing or smoke alarm being activated.

The value and life changing impact of these animals cannot be disputed but the support that an animal provides is not limited to practical assistance.

The Health Benefits of pets

There are plenty of examples of the benefits to our health that owning or simply being in contact with a pet can bring. It is said that stroking a pet can lower a person’s heart rate or that we visit the doctor less and sleep better if we own a pet.  According to the American Heart Association, the survival prospects for people who have had heart attacks and strokes are better in dog owners than in those who are not.

Companionship

Possibly one of the greatest benefits of owning a pet is the companionship that you will receive.  There are many people who have reported that their pet has supported them through many emotionally distressing times such as bereavement providing a faithful companion during moments of crisis.

Emotional Support Animals

In the USA, a person can register their pet as an emotional support animal and receive special treatment for them. For example, an emotional support animal can be taken on a plane and landlords can’t usually refuse a tenant’s pet if they are a registered emotional support animal.  However, this requires a letter from a medical professional to confirm that the owner will suffer emotional distress if they are unable to have their pet with them. This system has not been adopted in the UK yet possibly due to concerns that this registration could be exploited by many pet owners.

Animals in Hospital

There is an increasing amount of case studies which show how comforting animals can be and this idea is now being introduced into hospitals as part of a treatment programme for many patients. For some patients, they find comfort in holding and stroking the animals and many children’s wards have organisations coming in with animals for the children to provide them with a positive experience which in turn stimulates a positive outlook for the patients and can reduce recovery time.

Are pets good for your mental health?

North Manchester General Hospital has adopted a scheme using animals in during sessions with patients with mental health conditions. The animal assisted therapy is enabling patients with long term mental health conditions to bond with the animals, reconnect with living things and talk about their problems.

Are there any negatives to consider?

Cat sleeping alongside dog

Owning a pet is a big responsibility both practically and financially. A pet owner needs to be responsible for caring for their pet by providing food, water and appropriate shelter as well as making sure that their medical needs are attended to. This can be costly and should always be considered before getting a pet. You might also want to consider the emotional distress for you and your family as it is likely that you will outlive your pet and so you need to give some thought to the prospect of caring for a sick pet one day.

So, all things considered, there does seem to be evidence to suggest that owning or having contact with a pet can have a positive impact on our lives and on our physical health and mental wellbeing. From providing physical assistance to stabilising our heart rate and offering emotional support, our furry, fluffy or scaly friends can help us as pet owners in so many ways!

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