Healthy Pets -> Healthy People

The easiest way to meet other people on campus: bring a dog and walk around for awhile!  I’m amazed at the number of folks, especially students, who greet my dog with joy when we take a walk on campus in the evening. A lot of college students who have left their family of origin to come to school miss their family dog or other pet.  Many others enjoy playing with or petting dogs, even ones they don’t know. (Some people don’t love pets and that’s okay, too!) The CDC says that pets can help increase opportunities for socialization as well as exercise.  While there are some days I’m not as excited to walk my dog, I do it anyway because I know we both need the exercise. Can pets make us healthier?

Some Ecards

I know personally I feel more relaxed and happier when I’m snuggling with my dog, so I wondered: what does the research say about the benefits of interacting with pets?  While some folks have a fear of dogs* or other animals and may not feel better after interacting with a pet, many others enjoy physical as well as psychological benefits!  For example:

  • Growing up in a house with pets helps boost kids’ immune systems, decrease allergies, and decrease asthma. [1]
  • Other research says pets can help decrease depression. Visiting with a pet can reduce agitation, depression, and anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.[2]  Some pets can qualify as therapeutic animals, a type of service animal.
  • Some people with high blood pressure who adopt a dog or cat have been shown to have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those people who do not own pets[3]
  • Studies indicate that pet owners have higher self-esteem and are more conscientious than non-pet owners[4]
  • Pets can help people cope positively with social rejection[4]

Of course, for folks with immune systems that are weak due to a disease or illness, pets introduce germs that may cause additional health problems.  Owning a pet means being responsible for its health and welfare, so if you can’t afford to own a dog or your apartment complex won’t let you have pets, there are lots of other ways to interact with pets and get the health benefits!

  • Volunteer with a local shelter (ie. Orange County Animal Services) or rescue organization (ie. Independent Animal Rescue)
  • Foster an animal through a local shelter or rescue.  The financial responsibility is significantly less to foster an animal than to adopt one!
  • Hang out with friends and their pets
  • Find out when UNC Helping Paws  is bringing pets to the Pit and go visit!
  • Start a local pet sitting or dog walking business

What health benefits do you experience when visiting with pets?

2 Beagles

*Consider going to CAPS for support in coping with a fear that is limiting you from living your life to its fullest.

[1] Jennings, LB. Potential Benefits of Pet Ownership in Health Promotion, Journal of Holistic Nursing.  December 1997 vol. 15 no. 4 358-372

[2] Research Shows Therapy Dogs Give Alzheimer’s Patients Relief from Sundown Syndrome, University of Nebraska Medical Center, October 25, 1999

[3] Lerche Davis, J. 5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health. WebMD.

[4] McConnell AR, Brown CM, Shoda TM, Stayton LE, Martin CE. Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011  Dec;101(6):1239-52.

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