Creature Comforts

Pets can benefit body and mind

By Amelia Rasmus

Sure, sometimes they pee on the carpet.
Sometimes they scratch the new couch. And sometimes, they manage to muss up your best black dress just as you’re walking out the door.

Despite all this, you definitely wouldn’t be better off without these companions.

We’re not talking about spouses, we’re talking about pets.

You already know that Fluffy and Rover provide unconditional love and give you someone to talk to when you’re alone.

But, did you also know that living with an animal can be good for your mental and physical health?

Many scientific studies and surveys have backed up the benefits of pet ownership. Here are a few:

• According to the National Institutes of Health, people with pets make fewer doctor visits than those without, especially when it comes to non-serious medical conditions.

• A study at Cambridge University found that having a four-legged friend resulted in improvements in their owner’s health. These animal lovers were found to suffer fewer ailments, such as headaches, colds and hay fever.

• Ninety-two percent of respondents to an American Animal Hospital Association Survey indicated that they derive significant health benefits from their pets, and 31 percent stated that their physical fitness has been improved because of exercising with their companions.

• Dr. Karen Allen, a researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo, discovered that people with hypertension who adopted a dog had lower blood-pressure readings in stressful situations than did non-pet-owners.

• In a study reported in the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, stockbrokers with high blood pressure were all given the reducing medication lisinopril, and half of them were also given a pet.

When put in stressful situations, those with a pet experienced half the increase in blood pressure as did those without a pet.

• Dr. Meredith Wells, an assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, surveyed businesses that allow pets in the office and found that employees believe those furry co-workers help reduce stress and improve mental as well as physical health.

• Banks and Banks Journals of Gerontology featured a study of three groups of elderly people — one with no animal-assisted therapy; another with one, 30-minute session per week; and a third with three, 30-minute sessions per week.

Those with no animal-assisted therapy reported a loneliness score of 50. The members of the single-session group reported a score of 40, and the three-times-a week group reported a score of about 38.

• South-African psychologist, physiologist and veterinarian Dr. Johannes Odendaal found that there are neuro-endocrine responses in both humans and in dogs when the two interact.

The levels of feel-good hormones (phenethylamine, endorphin, oxytocin and dopamine) as well as the stress hormones, such as cortisol, were checked before and after 30-minute human-animal interaction periods.

Among both the humans and the dogs, there were dramatic increases in good hormones and decreases in their stress levels after the session.