It is popularly thought that pets improve their owner’s health and wellbeing. But the relationship is a little more complex than it first appears. For example, some studies have found that it depends on the type of pet you have.
It was thought that the exercise dog owners get by walking their dog, contributes to their better health, but cat owners were found to have the same benefits. The same benefit could not be found for owners of pet fish, pet birds, pet reptiles and pet rodents.
How can pet ownership affect your health
Researchers, reviewing 22 studies of health benefits in children, found that children living in families that have a pet, have higher self-esteem and lower loneliness. They are also better at perspective taking.
However, living with a pet can have adverse effects on people with allergies with as many as 12% of families having to remove their pet from their home because it made allergies worse.
Yet other studies have found that living with pets can reduce the occurrence of some allergies such as grass, cats and house dust mite allergies. It is important to note that allergies were reduced, not eliminated and advice should always be sought from your doctor about your specific situation.
Further clouding the issue is that many people obtain a pet to solve their health problems. For example, someone with a heart condition who needs to lose weight, may get a dog so they will be more motivated to exercise, presumably by walking the dog.
There are certainly studies that find health benefits in pet ownership. A review of several studies found Cardiovascular health of pet owners has been found to be much better than non-pet owners; that therapy animals can assist people with mental health conditions and that children’s developmental disorders or experience of trauma can benefit from owning a pet.
Pets health matters too
The perspective of the pet needs to be considered too. This year the RSPCA received 137,391 pets into their animal shelters. The most common reasons cited for surrendering an animal are the owners moving to a place they cannot take their pet, and the cost of the pet. Sometimes the pet’s behaviour is the reason given.
The RSPCA urge anyone considering a pet to give full consideration to the needs of the pet and to their willingness to meet those needs. So if you are considering a dog to motivate you to exercise, to improve your health or reduce loneliness; first consider whether you can take care of the pet.
For assistance in making any major decision about pet ownership, for improving your health behaviours and for concerns about your mental health; please contact your EAP 1800 629 277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Rebecca L. Utz, (2013) Walking the Dog: The Effect of Pet Ownership on Human Health and Health Behaviors/Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 5.2, 216-228.
2. Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C., Meints, K., Gee, N., & Westgarth, C. (2017). Companion animals and Child/Adolescent development: A systematic review of the evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(3), 234.
3. Collin, S. M., Granell, R., Westgarth, C., Murray, J., Paul, E., Sterne, J. A. C., & John Henderson, A. (2015). Pet ownership is associated with increased risk of non-atopic asthma and reduced risk of atopy in childhood: Findings from a UK birth cohort. Clinical and Experimental Allergy : Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 45(1), 200-210.
4. Cherniack, E. P., & Cherniack, A. R. (2015). Assessing the benefits and risks of owning a pet. Canadian Medical Association.Journal, 187(10), 715-716.
5. Brunekreef, B., Groot, B., & Hoek, G. (1992). Pets, allergy and respiratory symptoms in children. International Journal of Epidemiology, 21(2), 338-342.