Do you want the health of the members in your family to improve? One way, according to scientists and psychologists, is to adopt a cat or dog… Researchers said dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and are generally healthier than the average members of the population with fewer minor ailments or serious medical problems…

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Doctors say that dogs can directly promote our well-being by buffering us from stress, one of the major risk factors associated with ill-health, increasing physical activity and facilitating the development of social contacts. Studies done by the University of Warwick found that young children with pets have fewer days off sick from school. Researchers found five-year-olds whose families kept animals had attendance levels 18 per cent higher than their peers without pets. Health psychologist Dr June McNicholas said pets helped boost children’s immune systems. Researchers monitored 256 children aged five to 11 years.
The children gave saliva samples which was tested for the antibody immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is used as an indicator of immune system strength, an indicator of their general state of health. The study showed that antibody levels among pet owning children were significantly more stable, indicating that they had robust immune systems. Research showed children whose families kept pets were less likely to have asthma or allergies. The theory is that the immune system develops in relation to what it is exposed to. Having a cat or dog exposes children to more infections early in life and boosts their immune systems. The study said the benefits were most pronounced in children aged between five and eight years.
Parents are wary of keeping pets when they have a new baby. But a study carried out by scientists at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan suggests that children who are exposed to cats and dogs in their first year of life have a reduced risk of allergy and better lung function. 473 children received skin tests to common allergens including cat, dog and dust when they were between six and seven years old. They were also tested for lung and chest functions. It was found those children who had been exposed to pets from birth had half the number of reactions to all the allergens compared to those who were pet-less.
The researchers said that the link was still true when results were adjusted for gender, birth order, parental asthma and smoking and dust mite allergen levels.
Scientists at a conference of the American Heart Association revealed a study on New York stockbrokers – the most stressful job in the world – found that those who owned pets had lower blood pressure in stressful situations than their petless counterparts. The study looked at the stress response of 48 stockbrokers who were taking medication to control high blood pressure. Half of them owned a dog, and their blood pressure consistently remained lower during a series of stressful situations.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence that having a pet can improve human health. University of Buffalo has been studying the effects of pets on people’s reactivity to stress – measured by heart rate and blood pressure responses to mental and physical stress for over a decade. The findings have shown over and over that it’s beneficial to be with a pet when you’re under stress. The same study found that married couples who owned pets had a lower heart rate and blood pressure whether at rest or when undergoing stressful tests than those without pets.
One study, done at in Illinois, examined the effects of dogs on heart rate, blood pressure. The subjects were fourteen women, between the ages of 76 and 90. The dogs didn’t have any prior contact with the women. The experiment began by recording the women’s blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen saturation. Then two dogs were brought into the room and the subjects touched and held them. After ten minutes, the women’s vitals were taken again. The results showed that 13 out of 14 subjects’ blood pressure decreased and the subjects’ heart rate revealed a significant decreasing trend as well. These researchers concluded that dogs may have a beneficial effect on elderly women’s cardiovascular and nervous system.
A survey of more than 11,000 Australians, Chinese and Germans proved pet-owners enjoy better health. Over a five year period, pet owners made 15 – 20 per cent fewer annual visits to the doctor than non pet-owners. Results showed that the healthiest group – those who went to the doctor least – was those who continuously owned a pet. The next healthiest group had obtained a pet during the study period, having not had one before. The least healthy groups were people who had never owned a pet. A US survey of 1,000 Medicare patients showed that 40% of the elderly sought the services of a doctor much less frequently than those without animal companions. Nursing homes that use companion animal therapy have experienced a significant reduction in the use of prescription drugs.
Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College in its 1995 study said there’s no question that emotions have an impact on health, and that pets may help promote positive emotions. A UK study exploring how pets could help recently widowed people in dealing with stress showed those three months after bereavement, pet owners showed fewer physical symptoms, such as crying, than non-pet owners. The pet owners were able to talk to their animals at a time when they felt unable to share their feelings with other people.
Professor Sam Ahmedzai, Professor of Palliative Medicine at Sheffield University Medical School said that therapeutic benefits had already been observed in numerous schemes where patients have bedside access to animals in hospitals and nursing homes. Citing one study of 18 people and their dogs, he described how the researcher had been able to demonstrate that time spent stroking and talking to the dogs resulted in subjects reducing their blood pressure, increasing levels endorphins (the body’s natural mood-enhancing and pain-relieving chemicals) and decreasing levels of cortisol, a substance associated with stress.
A study by the US Department of Health concluded that pets increased the survival rate of heart attack victims. The study revealed that 28 per cent of heart patients with pets survived serious heart attacks, compared to only 6 per cent of heart patients without pets. Another study revealed that the cholesterol levels of pet owners were 2% lower than the cholesterol levels of people without pets. The risk of those pet owners having a heart attack was reduced by 4 per cent. In addition to reducing stress and therefore helping people avoid high blood pressure, pets can also aid recovery from illness. Research indicates that owning a pet can improve a person’s chances of survival after a life-threatening illness such as a heart attack.
Owning a pet can reduce blood pressure as effectively as eating a low-salt diet or reducing alcohol intake. The benefits of pets have to be appreciated in the health care mix – in the same way that we’re looking to acupuncture and other treatments that not so long ago were regarded with suspicion. The National Institutes of Health conducted a workshop almost 20 years ago on the health benefits of pets and pet-facilitated therapy. Conclusion: these benefits exist. If a pet adds joy to your life and makes you feel better or more secure in your home, or provides entertainment and structure, you hardly need scientific proof of the benefits.


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