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The Pet Effect

17 May, 2017
Pet effect

Humankind’s adoption of animal friends has shaped both parties evolutionary path for millennia, so our cliched interest in animal videos isn’t as vapid an exercise as you might believe. Our instinctive drive to have them as part of the family might be more than a simple love of things that are fluffy; rather, we might understand on some level that pets have a direct impact on our health.

What are the health benefits of pets?

Pet owners are likely to think that their companions have a positive impact on their health, whether it’s something as simple as providing company or giving them an excuse or reason to go for a daily walk. These direct and obvious benefits are true, but they’re only surface level. Check out this table from afp to see the health benefits of owning a pet.

Table 1. Health related benefits of companion animal ownership

Health benefit

Benefits to owners

Patients most affected

Physical health

Cardiovascular health34-37

  • Pets can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure (eg. patting a dog or watching fish swim peacefully in an aquarium)
  • Pet owners show improved recovery rates from heart surgery

Adults and the elderly, in particular those who are stressed, and/or have cardiovascular disease

Physical fitness (primarily for dog owners)3840

  • Dogs are great exercise partners and provide social support
  • Dog owners are more physically active (primarily though walking dog) and have reduced risk of obesity and better physical health

All ages, particularly those who are physically unfit or overweight

Immune system development41,42

  • Exposure to pets lowers the likelihood of developing allergies


Psychological health

Animal assisted therapy (AAT)26,27,28,43,44

  • AAT with dogs and/or fish can increase morale, eating habits and overall health in Alzheimer patients
  • AAT increased attendance, decreased violent behaviour, and increased language and social skills in children with ADHD
  • In clinical settings, AAT reduces stress in children

People of all ages with various disorders

Mental health21,45,46

  • Owners are less likely to experience loneliness and depression, as pets provide social support (with similar effects to human-human relationships), and provide a sense of purpose
  • Older people with pets are less stressed by major adverse life events than non-pet owners

Adults (particularly during times of stress or loss of a loved one), the elderly, socially isolated, chronically ill (physical or mental) or those with a terminal illness, and/or physical impairment

Child development47,48

  • Pets may play a role in the social-emotional development of children,
    including self esteem, autonomy and empathy for others
  • Children who own pets show increased trust, community feeling, safety, self confidence and self enhancement

Children and adolescents

Social health

Pets as social enablers49,50

  • Pets are a good catalyst for meeting people (eg. neighbours, strangers)
  • Other social opportunities, including animal clubs and societies
  • Pet attachment is positively correlated with family cohesion and adaptability
  • Improves social interaction for the elderly and those with Alzheimer disease when used in visiting programs

People living alone and/or those having difficulty meeting others


What’s the difference between a support and an assistance animal?

There can be some confusion around the difference between support and service animals, but the main and most important difference is the legality around it.

An assistance animal, as described by the Disability Act 1992 (Cth) is an animal that:

(a) is accredited under a State or Territory law to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of disability; or

(b) is accredited by an animal training organisation prescribed in the regulations; or

(c) is trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effect of the disability and meets standards of hygiene and behaviour that are appropriate for an animal in a public place.

A support animal isn’t legally recognised or accredited by an organisation.


How do I get an assistance animal?

This varies from state to state; however, it should be noted that assistance animals are for people who have a disability. The NSW Government defines disability as:

Disability covers a wide range of physical and psychological conditions and includes:

  • total or partial loss of the bodily or mental functions;
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body;
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness;
  • the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness;
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body;
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently; OR
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.

If you’re after more information on pets and where they might fit into your health, check out The Pet Effect!

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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