New research into the potential health benefits of pets has revealed that adult animal-owners are typically up to 50 per cent healthier than their non-pet counterparts, with a number of specific health benefits associated with domestic animals also reported.
The study, published in a journal commissioned by international investment business LetterOne for their Global Perspectives series, draws from 139 data sets from 48 papers, spanning multiple countries. It also examines a range of health conditions, from physical activity and general wellbeing to cardiovascular and mental health.
The research shows that pet owners are typically 60 per cent more physically active than those who do not own pets, with improvements in coronary and mental health also shown in people who own a domestic animal.
Dr Carri Westgarth, senior lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool, states: “Given that physical activity has downstream effects on risks of many chronic diseases, cancers and mental wellbeing, it is likely that our dogs (or at least the ones we walk) are significantly improving our health.”
The theory is also true for both children and the elderly, with the study showing children with pets to be around 11 per cent healthier than those without, and elderly pet owners cited as being 68 per cent more physically active than their non-pet counterparts.
Crucial gains in emotional health through better self-esteem, an ability to combat loneliness through the companionship that pets provide, and increased social skills and behaviours are cited as constituent factors for these marked increases.
“Our furry friends deserve to be recognised for the health benefits that they bring us,” Dr Westgarth says.
While the study is the latest to show a correlation between health and having a pet, the concept of pets being beneficial to our general wellbeing is not a new phenomenon; a 1980s study by Erica Friedmann into the matter successfully demonstrated that pet owners were less likely to have died one year after suffering a heart attack than patients who did not own pets.
Even today, 87 per cent of British dog owners see their dog as a companion, with 80 per cent agreeing that their dog keeps them physically active.
Recent research has also revealed a wealth of specific data that may cause us to rethink our relationship with domestic animals beyond pure health motivations.
A direct link between health and pet ownership could see a reduction of nearly £7bn in health expenditure in the UK.
Dr Tonya E Thornton and Terry L Clower at George Mason University estimate that, in 2020 dollars, the US healthcare system and consumers realise more than $12bn per year in pet-ownership related savings, with the effects of Covid-19 increasing our awareness of the benefits pet ownership can bring to both physical and mental health.
“The loss of social companionship and related mental health maladies [as a result of Covid-19] especially among the at-risk population who have had to endure separation from family and friends for months, can be greatly reduced by having a companion pet,” they say.