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
Benefits to owners
Patients most affected
- 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)38–40
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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!
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