Five Reasons Doctors Believe Health Improves When You Get a Pet

By Wednesday, May 6, 2015

If you’re looking for yet another reason to celebrate your pet, you’re in luck because it’s National Pet Week! It’s the perfect time to thank your four-legged family members for the companionship, love and laughter they add to life on a daily basis.

As if those reasons weren’t enough, a new survey shows that an overwhelming majority of physicians believe that pets play a role in our personal health and happiness. In fact, 74% of doctors surveyed said they would prescribe a pet to improve overall health if the medical evidence supported it!

Conducted by The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, in partnership with the Cohen Research Group, the survey also found that:

  • Most doctors have successfully worked with animals in medicine.
    69% have worked with them in a hospital, medical center or medical practice to assist patient therapy or treatment. They report interactions with animals improve patients’ physical condition (88%), mental health condition (97%), mood or outlook (98%) and relationships with staff (76%).
  • Doctors overwhelmingly believe there are health benefits to owning pets.
    97% reported that they believe there were health benefits that resulted from owning a pet.
  • The majority of doctors have recommended a pet to a patient.
    60% of doctors interviewed have recommended getting a pet to a patient. 43% recommended the pet to improve overall health and 17% made the recommendation for a specific condition.
  • Most doctors have seen their patients’ health improve as a result of pet ownership.
    75% of physicians said they saw one or more of their patients overall health improve and 87% said their patients’ mood or outlook improved.

The results shouldn’t be surprising. Each year, more and more scientific studies prove the overwhelmingly positive effect animals have on our physical and mental health.

Here are five powerful reasons doctors believe in the healing power of pets:

A Happy Heart

Although the exact reason isn’t known, it appears that dog owners have lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and may be less prone to heart disease. This could be because people with dogs tend to get more exercise, which also lowers blood pressure. In addition, studies show that pet owners who have had a heart attack or suffer from heart disease live longer than those who don’t have pets.

Social Security

While most of us who have pets turn to them for comfort and companionship, this is especially important for senior citizens. Caring for an animal helps contribute to a sense of purpose, keeping individuals more mentally and physically active. One study showed that elderly persons who had either a dog or a cat were better able to perform certain physical activities such as climbing stairs, kneeling, preparing meals, bathing and dressing.

Mood Boosters

If you feel more relaxed after spending time with your dog, it’s not your imagination. Cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” is lowered after spending only a few minutes in the presence of an animal. At the same time, serotonin, a chemical responsible for mood balance, is released. The result? Less stress and anxiety.

Allergy Busters

Kids who are exposed to pet dander early on may have fewer allergies when they get older, studies suggest. And the more pets, the better! One study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that children under the age of one, who had two or more dogs or cats in the family, had reduced allergy development by the time they were six or seven-years-old.

A Pet a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Numerous studies have shown that pet parents make fewer visits to the doctor for minor medical issues than non-pet owners. For those over the age of 65, it reduces visits by a whopping 30%! Pet parents also take less medication for both sleep and heart issues, and miss fewer days of work due to illness.

For those of us who share our lives with pets, all of this is great news. It shows that the medical community is catching up with what most of us already suspected: pets really are the best medicine!