Health benefits of owning a pet

Research shows that pet owners are healthier and happier. Read on to find out how your four-legged friend could be your best medicine.

From the ‘as if we needed scientists to tell us that’ files comes this news: Pets are good for us. People who share their lives with a four-legged friend (or two) are healthier, happier and less stressed out than those who don’t.

Proof positive

A range of research supports the link between pet ownership and improved health. Here’s just a handful of the highlights, as compiled by Pet Positives:

  • In a 20-year study American study of almost 4500 people, those who had never owned a pet cat were found to be 40 per cent more likely to die of a heart attack than those who owned a cat. They were also 30 per cent more likely to die of other cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, heart failure and chronic heart disease.         
  • If you do have a heart attack, owning a pet adds an extra 4 per cent to your chances of surviving it.
  • Dog cuddles lower your blood pressure. The boffins have discovered that people have lower blood pressure when talking to and petting a dog than when they interact with another person. Dogs have been used in hospitals and care facilities for this very purpose.
  • Studies from Australia, Germany and China have revealed that pet owners make fewer visits to the doctor each year than non-owners.
  • Pet owners get out and about more, says Australian researcher Dr Hayley Christian from The University of Western Australia. Her research found that people who got a dog increased their recreational walking by 48 minutes per week, compared with an increase of only 12 minutes per week for people who did not acquire a dog during the period of the study. She also found that dog owners are more likely to meet the recommended levels of exercise than non-owners.
  • According to another American study, pet owners have greater self-esteem and cope better with social rejection than non-owners. 
  • Pets help to alleviate grief and stress. An American study of elderly people who had recently lost a spouse showed that pet ownership and strong attachment to pets were associated with significantly less depression.
  • Kids who grow up with pets, especially dogs, have a lower incidence of allergies than children who don’t have a four-legged friend.
cat lounging on owner

Feeling better

It’s not just science that proves pets are balm for both the body and soul.

When Karen and Andrew Chaston’s 27-year-old son, Dan, passed away suddenly in 2011, the couple from Sydney’s Northern Beaches felt consumed by sadness. After a friend suggested that a dog might help with the grieving process, they brought home a spoodle puppy, Sirius. Karen says the plucky pup is a constant source of smiles.

“Andrew and I found a lot of comfort in diverting our attention to our new ‘little man’,” Karen says. “Sirius has helped us in many ways. He is great company; someone who just sits and listens, and snuggles up close when I’m feeling a bit down. Taking him on walks gets us out of the house, too.”

Melbourne’s Regina Pascuzzi says spending time with her three cats – Thomas, Polly Panda Pants and Enzo – is a sure-fire stress reliever.

“Having worked in high-pressure roles all of my life, the three cats have been the most amazing balance. You can’t be thinking or doing a million things, because there will be a claw, a headbutt or a meow to bring you back to the here and now,” she says.

“I’ve had health challenges in the past and my three know when I’m not well and take it in turns to watch over me. I live on my own and there is simply no time to feel lonely with a cat, let alone three, in the house.

“The secret is while you think you’re taking care of them, they’re actually taking care of you.”

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