Science Agrees - Dogs and Cats are Good for You!

We bet you don't need any convincing that an animal in the house brings health and happiness. For most North American pet owners, the thump of a dog's tail or the rumbling purr of a contented cat is enough to bring on the feel-good factor. But increasingly, science is supporting the sentimentality with medical fact, and all the evidence points in the same direction: pets can help you live longer.

According to Dr Karen Allen at the State University of New York , pet owners have lower stress, cholesterol levels and blood pressure than their pet-less counterparts.  Dr Allen observed hypertension among stressed-out Wall Street stockbrokers [Ed: Poor things! Probably stressed out about all the money they made!]. She gave half the group dogs and the other half medication. Six months later, the pooch-petters were doing significantly better, while the pill-poppers still had high blood pressure.

Researchers from Cambridge University also showed that it doesn't take long for the benefits of pet ownership to kick in.  "After just one month, there was a very significant reduction in minor health problems among pet owners. And after ten months, general health had improved." according to Dr James Serpell of the Animal Research Group.

One Professor at Pennsylvania University, believes psychology plays an important part. He calls pets "non-human social support providers" and points to many studies showing that people with good human social support networks have a more robust immune system and less cardiovascular disease. Pets may promote the same feelings of purpose, companionship and fulfilment, with similar health benefits.

There could be a scientific explanation for this feel-good factor. It now appears that when people are in the company of those they like or love – whether humans or animals – their brains produce oxytocin, which suppresses the production of stress hormones.

Pet ownership also encourages physical exercise. Researchers believe this may be the reason that dogs produce more health benefits in their owners than cats or other animals. A study in Australia of 894 adults showed dog-owners walked an average of 18 minutes more per week than those without pets.

But,more than half the owners didn't walk their dogs at all, showing dog ownership and greater physical activity don't always go hand in hand.

Pet owners also recover more quickly from heart attacks, illness and accidents. This has made the use of therapy pets standard in many of the world's hospitals and rehabilitation centres and twenty years of research shows that pet-assisted therapy has many benefits including lower blood pressure, better respiratory patterns, improved immune system and less need for pain medication.