Pets can offer many health benefits

Dr. Jim Surrell

Many, many households in the United States have at least one pet. It is estimated that there are nearly 90 million dogs in USA homes today, significantly up from about 70 million dogs in homes in the year 2000. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 40 percent of USA homes have a dog as a pet, and about 25 percent of USA homes have a cat as a pet.

So, why do people have pets? Of course, there are many reasons, and having a pet in the home has been clearly shown to offer significant health benefits, as noted below.

Consider these proven medical facts. Having a pet in the home has been shown to decrease blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, relieve depression, and reduce feelings of loneliness. Further, pets can increase family and individual opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities, and socializing with others. Additional studies have also shown that people with dementia or Alzheimer’s have fewer anxious outbursts and appear to be more calm when there is an animal living in the home.

Pediatrician James E. Gern, M.D. recently reported that a growing number of scientific studies dispute the old thinking that if your family had a pet, the children were more likely to become allergic to the pet. However, a growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with “fur-bearing” animals, whether a pet cat or dog, will have less risk of allergies and asthma. This research showed that if a dog lived in the home, infants were 14% less likely to show evidence of pet allergies. They also were likely to have a stronger immune system and I certainly agree with Dr. Gern’s quote in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system.”

I was fortunate to grow up with both cats and dogs in our home.