Nothing beats the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. Pets can decrease stress, improve your heart health, and even positively impact children’s emotional and social skills. An estimated 68% of U.S. households have pets, but who benefits from one?
And what type of pet should you consider to bring health benefits? Over the past 10 years, NIH has partnered with Mars Corporation’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition to fund research studies on what the potential benefits may be for different animals—from fish to guinea pigs to dogs and cats.
Scientists are doing their best to understand the possible physical and mental health benefits from different animals and see how they can apply this research to humans as well.
Possible Health Effects
Studies on animal interactions are new, so there is much to learn. Some show positive health benefits, while others have mixed results. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone), lower blood pressure, and increase feelings of social support.
The NIH/Mars Partnership is funding a wide range of studies to understand the extent by which animals impact child development, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other conditions. “There’s not one answer about how a pet can help somebody with a specific condition,” explains Dr. Layla Esposito over at the NIH Human-Animal Interaction Research Program. “Is your goal to increase physical activity?
Then you might benefit from owning a dog.” She says that for some goals like that, watching fish swim can result in feeling calm and may be better than going for a walk on land alone.
The NIH is funding large surveys to find out what kinds of pets people live with and how these relationships relate to health. “We’re trying to tap into the subjective quality of the relationship with the animal,” adds Dr. James Griffin of these relationships between humans and their animal companions.
Animals Helping People
Pets can really make people feel good. Therapy animals, specifically, have been shown to have an amazing impact on patients with depression and stress disorders. Adults without children only get to spend less than 24 hours with their own pets each week.
An animal can provide comfort and support—a great way to interact with someone who is struggling emotionally. Therapy dogs specifically are adept at doing this because they’re always present. They constantly use their attention, which allows people to feel supported and loved while they’re feeling down. For people dealing with emotions or trauma, an animal can be a powerful tool in reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety or managing pain.
Another one of the most important benefits of a pet is that they simply make you happy. Imagine how much better your day would be if you could run home after work to greet your dog, or if cats could calm your kids during a tantrum! If you’re struggling with everyday life and need something to boost your mood or increase your outlook, consider adopting a new furry friend!
Pets may bring a wide range of health benefits, but an animal may not be the best choice for everyone. Recent studies suggest that exposure to animals early on in life can help protect children from developing allergies and asthma, but some types of pets might actually do more harm than good when dealing with people who are allergic to them.
Helping Each Other
We’re sorry to say that we didn’t hit the button. We love dogs just like you do, but your pet died and now you’re looking for a new one.
Fortunately, Mars has funds that are looking into the health effects of humans and animals interacting. Remember to take extra care with your new dog so it doesn’t get too stressed, too.
Dog bites can be dangerous and it’s important for kids to know what to do when a dog becomes aggressive. Scientists are continuously examining all the health effects brought about by having a pet as well as exploring what works and what does not work for this integration, both for people and for their animals