Owning a Pet may Benefit your Health

Owning a Pet may Benefit your Health

We’re a nation of pet lovers. Using statistics from the 2013-2014 pet owners survey conducted by the APPA, the Humane Society of the United States recently estimated that since 1970, dog and cat ownership has increased from 67 million to an estimated 164 million. This figure doesn’t even take into account the rabbits, birds, and hamsters that many of us share our homes with. The huge increase in pets helps explain how US pet owners spend over $50 billion per annum. It’s clear we love our pets and there may be a good reason for this too, owning a pet may improve your health.

Pets may Prevent Allergies

Over the years, studies have found that exposure to animals during infancy may reduce the odds of that person developing allergies in later life. One such study, published in JAMA in 2002, found that babies exposed to 2 or more dogs or cats in their first year of life, seemed to experience a significantly reduced occurrence of allergies as they aged. Scientists aren’t sure why this occurs, but predict that as these babies were being exposed to bacteria, viruses, and parasites through their pets, their immune systems were stronger as a result.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked specifically at dog ownership and how owning a dog affects gut bacteria. The study showed that living with a dog increases the diversity of bacteria found within house dust. As part of the study, scientists fed two types of house dust to mice, dust from a home with a dog and dust from a home without pets. The mice ingesting the dust from the home with the dog were less likely to show allergic reactions to various allergens than the other mice in the study. Scientists conclude that if mice experience a lower incidence of allergic reactions living in a home with a dog, the same may apply to humans.

Pets may Improve your Mental Health

Pets aren’t complicated and provide us with unconditional love, so it’s no surprise that they can improve your mental health, decreasing stress and anxiety just through being there. Studies have found that when you pet your dog, cat, or bunny, you are releasing the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in helping us to develop and strengthen relationships and also prevents a number of psychological and physiological problems.

Pet therapy is a growing trend where animals help people to recover or cope with health problems. Pets will visit patients in hospitals as they recover from illness or surgery, boosting their mood and giving them comfort. This type of therapy has been proven to be extremely beneficial in improving the mental well-being of those experiencing challenging medical situations and today is used more frequently than ever before in hospitals and medical centers.

It’s clear that pets can help those experiencing difficult events, but a 2011 Miami University study conducted research to see whether pets can improve the mental health of those people who aren’t already feeling isolated from others. The study found that pet owners were on average less lonely and had higher self-esteem than those without. Dogs specifically seemed to help their owners to meet social needs, making them feel better about life as a result.

It’s clear to see why we as a nation have such love for our furry friends. Pets can be wonderful companions, providing us with something we just don’t get from our human relationships.

Sources:

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html– U.S. Pet Ownership and Shelter Population Estimates. The Humane Society.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38660/title/Dogs–Dust-Microbes–and-Allergies/ – Dogs, Dust Microbes, and Allergies. The Scientist.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12190366 – Exposure to dogs and cats in the first year of life and risk of allergic sensitization at 6 to 7 years of age. The Journal of the American Medical Association.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pet-therapy/MY02122 – Pet therapy: Man’s best friend as healer. Mayo Clinic.

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