When you’re sick and your cat curls up on your lap, you might think you feel a little better. If you take your dog to work, you may notice that the day is less stressful. Or if you travel with your four-legged friend, maybe you think you sleep better.
Turns out you don’t just think you feel better, but your pet may actually make you healthier. A growing body of scientific research supports that this “pet effect” is real.
Animal health company Zoetis has launched a campaign called The Pet Effect to raise awareness about how pets make people healthier and how, by extension, the veterinary professionals who keep pets healthy are key contributors to human and public health. The company has launched this campaign with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).
“We’ve learned that human well-being is enhanced because of a healthy relationship with a pet. Now we want to educate pet owners, veterinarians, doctors, employers and non-pet owners about these overall health benefits,” said Dr. J. Michael McFarland, group director, companion animal marketing at Zoetis. “We are hopeful this will help improve policies regarding pets in public places and also improve public health.”
The research collected by HABRI shows a variety of potential positive effects of pets; for example, that having a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. One study from the University of Minnesota even found that people who have never owned a cat have a 40 percent higher relative risk of death from a heart attack.
Other research shows that pets may help prevent allergies in children, strengthen the immune system, increase social interaction, benefit children with autism and provide relief for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pets may also provide mental health benefits. Studies show that dogs and cats can reduce several symptoms of depression, including loneliness, loss of interest and feelings of worthlessness. Pets are also shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Human health professionals are starting to take notice that pets change people at more than just the emotional level. A HABRI study found that 97 percent of physicians believe there are health benefits to owning a pet and most of them had recommended a patient get a pet.
Veterinarians are key to educating pet owners about the many benefits of The Pet Effect. Research from HABRI overwhelmingly illustrates that pet owners have a high level of trust in their veterinarian and more than 60 percent would be more likely to visit their veterinarian if he or she discussed the human-animal bond.
So the next time you’re feeling a little blue, anxious or stressed out, maybe the best prescription isn’t necessarily from the pharmacy, but at your local animal shelter.
To learn more about The Pet Effect and how your pets impact your health, visit ThePetEffect.org. Then share the videos, data and how your own dog or cat has changed your life on social media with the hashtags #dogsideeffects and #catsideeffects.