The Health Benefits of Owning Pets
We all enjoy being around our companion canines and felines, but did you know pets can have positive benefits on our physical and mental health?
From the blood pressure lowering and calming effects of stroking a cat’s back to the calorie burning and endorphin releasing merits of taking your dog for a walk, companion animal ownership is good for people.
In fact, there’s a term for the beneficial effects companion animals have on human health: zooeyia. Although zooeyia may sound like an exotic disease where animals serve as the source of infection for people (zoonosis, there spread of illness across species), it’s actually the positive inverse of zoonosis.
Catalysts for Harm Reduction
Smoking is harmful habit both to the smoker and people and pets exposed to second-hand smoke. Besides the irritants and chemicals that all organisms sharing a smoke-filled environment breathe, clothes, blankets, beds, furniture, and floors (i.e. third-hand smoke) collect toxic residues which pose serious health risks to our animal companions.
By the simple action of self-grooming, toxins will be ingested when pets use their mouths clean their fur or paw pads. Additionally, pets are more likely than humans to lick the floor or other environmental surfaces and will absorb toxins to which humans may not otherwise be exposed.
Most cats live indoor-only lives and are even more prone to the noxious effects of smoking, especially when it comes to cancer. Cats living in smoking households are more prone to oral squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, and mammary cancer. Brachycephalic dogs (“short faced”, like the Pug, English Bulldog, etc.) are more commonly affected by lung cancer while dolichocephalic (“long faced”, including the Collie, Greyhound, etc.) commonly develop nasal cancer from second-hand smoke.
According to Tobacco Control 2009: 0:1-3, “the dangers of pet exposure to second-hand smoke is motivation to owners to quit or attempt to quit smoking, motivate household members to quit, and to forbid smoking inside the home.”
The fact that a pet’s presence can prompt a person to quit smoking shows that veterinarians play a key role in educating owners about the negative implications their habits have on pets. Thereby, the health of the owner is also benefitted by being better informed.
Healthy Lifestyle Motivators
We all know that exercise should one of our positive daily habits, but for many Americans simply being aware if of the emotional and physical benefits of exercise still isn’t enough incentive. Yet, if we are motivated to walk our dogs for elimination, socialization, and exercise we are also more likely to be active.
Pets, especially dogs, can be inspiration for owners to increase their physical activity. The PPET (People Pets Exercising Together) Study showed that owners who regularly exercised with their dog stuck with their workout plan as compared to participants lacking canine companionship while being active.
Dogs are great motivators because they often initiate exercise (require a person to take them out to urinate and defecate), add enjoyment to activities, and are a source of “parental pride.”
Before you start on an exercise program with your canine companion, schedule an wellness examination with your veterinarian to get the best sense of the activities that are most-appropriate for your pet’s level of physical health.
Therapeutic Interventions to Treat Illness
A household pet’s presence can provide an owner with a variety of mental health benefits, including a sense of attachment, emotional and social well-being, and decreased feelings of isolation occurring during psychiatric illness.
According to Hypertension, 2001: 38:815-820 “pets provide non-judgemental social support intervention that buffers pathogenic responses to stress.”
Although our feline companions don’t get us up and exercising quite like their canine counterparts, cat ownership “significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and associated death.” One health-yielding benefit of having a cat is the calming and blood pressure-lowering effect associated with gently stroking your furry friend’s back.
As a practicing veterinarian and pet owner, I feel as though my life is enriched by my dog Cardiff’s presence. Although managing his health in the face of cancer and immune-system disease is stressful, I feel grateful to the positive contributions he makes to my emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Cardiff’s presence in my life exemplifies zooeiya, as he makes me be patient and focus on prioritizing his and my health everyday.
For further information on the means by which pets complement human health, see Zooeyia: An essential component of “One Health”. You can also visit The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (HABRI) which collects data from scientific studies on the means by which pets can benefit the health of their owners.