The benefits of sharing your life with a dog or cat

Benefits of sharing your life with a dog or cat

All animal lovers know that being a dog or cat parent comes with countless advantages. But what do the studies have to say?

The relationship between animals and people is mutually beneficial – and that’s a fact! Dogs and cats have been shown to help their caretakers by:

  • Easing stress
  • Reducing heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Offering social support
  • Helping them stay active
  • Improving mental health
  • Enhancing brain development
  • Increasing immunity

Let’s take a look at the science!

Stress reduction

In 2019, scientists at Washington State University demonstrated that programs allowing college students to interact with dogs and/or cats have stress-relieving physiological benefits. “Just ten minutes can have a significant impact,” said Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.” journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2332858419852592

Heart health

A study by Allen et al. measured the cardiovascular benefits of companion animals. The researchers examined the influence of having friends, spouses, and animals in 240 married couples, half with animals and half without. They found that dog and cat parents had lower heart rates and blood pressure at rest, and recovered faster from stress. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12271103/

Blood pressure

A 2019 study involving a group of 48 stockbrokers with high blood pressure found that those who lived with a dog or cat had lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without. All study participants were being treated with lisinopril, an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor used to treat hypertension. Results showed that ACE inhibitors keep blood pressure steady during non-stressful situations, but don’t prevent it from rising in times of heightened stress. That’s where a furry friend comes in handy! ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/hyp.38.4.815

Social support

Dogs are great conversation starters! According to Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, our canine companions can help ease people out of social isolation or shyness. “People ask about breed, they watch the dog’s tricks,” she says. “Sometimes the conversation stays at the ‘dog level’, and sometimes it becomes a real social interchange.” webmd.com

Physical activity

A survey of 191 “dog owning adults” (DO), 455 “non-dog owning adults” (NDO), and 46 children, living in 385 households in West Cheshire, UK, was conducted in 2015. The results were clear – DO were far more likely than NDO to report walking for recreation, and for longer periods per week. The odds of DO meeting the World Health Organization’s physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week were four times greater than for NDO. Children with dogs reported more minutes of walking and free time (unstructured) activity. nature.com/articles/s41598-019-41254-6

In a cross-sectional 2019 study, 111 young women of mean age 21 ± 1.2 years filled out a physical activity questionnaire to assess their exercise levels, supplemented with a question about whether they had an animal and what kind. Participants with animal companions generally reported higher PA levels than those who do not. bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-7962-z

Immunity

The unique microbes that dogs and cats carry mean that children who grow up in households with animals have a lower risk for developing autoimmune illnesses. A 2017 study conducted at the University of Alberta confirms this. Results showed that babies born into families with animals (70% of which were dogs) had more microbes associated with lower risks of allergies and obesity. This may result from exposure to dirt and bacteria (such as that found on an animal’s fur and paws) shortly after birth, or through indirect microbiome exchange from animal to mother to unborn baby during pregnancy. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x

Mental health

A meta-analysis from 2018 compared the results of controlled studies evaluating the effects of dogs on depressive symptoms in the aging population. It confirmed that animal-assisted intervention (specifically visiting dogs) reduces depressive symptoms in institutionalized and non-institutionalized older adults. academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article-abstract/60/1/e66/5203239

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Evan MacLean, an assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, stated that dogs could ease negative mental health impacts during times of limited social interaction, such as during lockdowns. medicalxpress.com/news/2020-03-self-quarantine-dogs-mental-health.html

Brain development

A systematic review conducted in 2017 demonstrated an association between animal guardianship and educational and cognitive benefits in children For instance, perspective-taking abilities and intellectual development was higher in children who lived in the same household as an animal. The review cites a mixed methods thesis paper, which found that ten to 14-year-old students with a stronger attachment to their animals had higher levels of validated social-cognitive development scores in comparison to students with a weak attachment to their animals. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5369070/#B52-ijerph-14-00234; pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/open_access_etds/159/

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