The Benefits of Puppy Love




Two puppies licking

Pet ownership confers a sense of belonging and acceptance. Many studies have hypothesized that owning and caring for a pet has qualitative psychological and physical benefits, but recent studies are quantifying these advantages. Pet owners have long reported better overall well-being compared to peers without pets, including greater self-esteem, greater conscientiousness, less stress, less negativity, and less fear. They routinely report more exercise and physical activity, which itself is positively correlated to improved psychological and physical health. Additionally, pets often complement, rather than compete, with other forms of social support.

An recent study reports that pet ownership may have quantifiable cardiovascular benefits. Evidence suggests that pet ownership, specifically dog ownership, leads to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Dog owners also have improved survival following a heart attack. The authors hypothesize that the link is due to the improved emotional state of pet owners, which leads to decreased autonomic activity and improved endothelial function, which, in turn, causes improved coagulation, immune function, and electrolyte balance, and related cardiovascular parameters. Collectively, these benefits lead to less cardiovascular dysfunction and disease.

In a related study, not owning a pet was a significant predictor of mortality in heart attack survivors. The link between not owning a pet and depression was significant, indicating that pet ownership improves survival by preventing depression, anxiety, and a lack of social support that contributes to post-heart attack deaths.

Luckily, this research does not apply only to adult pet owners. New research shows positive health benefits for adolescents who have a pet in their lives. Specifically, adolescents are more likely to engage in physical activity if their family has a dog. Improved physical activity for children and adolescents has innumerable psychological and physical benefits.

October is World Animal Month. Celebrate by thanking your pet for all he does for you. The long walks, the wet noses, the tennis-ball chasing, the purrs, and the fur on all your clothes and furniture are all making you happier and healthier.

References

Arhant-Sudhir K, Arhant-Sudhir R, & Sudhir K (2011). Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: Supporting evidence, conflicting data, and underlying mechanisms. Clinical and experimental pharmacology & physiology PMID: 21824172

Friedmann E, Thomas SA, & Son H (2011). Pets, depression and long term survival in community living patients following myocardial infarction. Anthrozoos, 24 (3), 273-285 PMID: 21857770

McConnell AR, Brown CM, Shoda TM, Stayton LE, & Martin CE (2011). Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of personality and social psychology PMID: 21728449

Reeves MJ, Rafferty AP, Miller CE, & Lyon-Callo SK (2011). The impact of dog walking on leisure-time physical activity: results from a population-based survey of Michigan adults. Journal of physical activity & health, 8 (3), 436-44 PMID: 21487144

Sirard JR, Patnode CD, Hearst MO, & Laska MN (2011). Dog ownership and adolescent physical activity. American journal of preventive medicine, 40 (3), 334-7 PMID: 21335266

Image via AnetaPics / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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