Health Psychology Home Page
Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being
|Home | Weight Loss | Alternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | About this Page ||
The bonds of companionship and adoration that exists between domestic animals and people foster an abundance of emotional support that is necessary for an individual to thrive. The psychological upsides of pet ownership have been apparent since the beginning of civilization, however, only recently have we have truly come to understand the profound effects that animals can have on our physical and emotional well-being.
The many ways in which animals can improve our lives is surely astonishing. Animals possess the ability to aid the emotionally unstable, such as schizophrenia patients or abused adolescents, in ways that other humans simply cannot. Animals can also be of service to the physically impaired, as demonstrated by many therapeutic horseback riding programs as well as guiding eyes dogs, just to name a few. But the physically and emotionally impaired are not the only individuals who receive benefits of being around domestic creatures.
On average, pet owners get more physical activity than those without pets, due to their obligation to exercise their furry companions. It is difficult to find both time and motivation to exercise on a daily basis and healthy activity often gets pushed aside for other ventures. However, exercise becomes a priority and a necessity because owners have a responsibility to provide the activity outlet for their animals. Research has also discovered some farther reaching implications of pet ownership. In previous heart attack patients, dog ownership increases the odds of survival from 1 in 15 to 1 in 87 (Nash). Only 6% of individuals without pets survived for at least one year after a heart attack in comparison with a 28% survival rate for pet owners (Nash). Domestic pets may even reduce the risk of heart attacks, after all, pet owners have shown lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels (Nash, WebMD). Studies have also accounted for a marked decrease in the blood pressure of dog owners as compared to non-owners. Children also experienced lower heart rate, blood pressure, and behavioral distress when a pet dog was present during a physical examination. Overall, pet owners even schedule less medical appointments on average (Nash)!
The presence of pets in one’s life is certainly a big responsibility, however, in the long run, pet ownership decreases stress, depression, and anxiety. A 2002 study by the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition and United States Food and Drug Administration showed that the “heart rates and blood pressures of pet owners increased less when the individuals were presented with math problems to solve if their companion animals were present” (Cunningham). Even the very act of petting a small animal soothes and relaxes an individual (Web MD). It is no wonder then that many universities bring out puppies for students to play with just before midterms and finals. Having the unconditional love of a pet combats both loneliness and depression in people of all ages, particularly in the elderly (Cunningham). In chronically depressed patients, pets offer a reason to get up in the morning as well as a companion and an opportunity to network and create new friends (Web MD).
Animals can also provide certain emotional facets that other humans cannot. People can confide in animals in a way they cannot confide in other humans. Some people find it easier to talk to animals because they won’t be judged and they won’t talk back. Animals are also the best keepers of your darkest secrets due to obvious verbal communication barriers. Pets can provide a sense of unconditional love that some people feel is lacking in their human relationships. Animals, particularly dogs and horses, are very in-tuned to people’s feelings. This is one reason that dogs are used in therapy with abused children. A particularly successful program is called “Gabriel’s Angels,” which strives to rebuild trusting relationships by bringing dogs to visit with neglected and/or abused children in the foster care system (Matas). The volunteers were initially shocked at how well the children responded to the animals they brought to visit. Children who were normally very cruel and unfriendly played very amicably with the dogs. Additionally, children who were usually very secluded immediately responded to the presence of the animals and came out to play (Matas). Children who have been abused are often skeptical of human relationships which can be detrimental to their development. Dogs have been cited to provide the unconditional love that children desire. While children may perceive adults as threatening, they do not feel threatened by a dog. Creating the human-animal bond is the basis of recreating feelings of trust in previously abused or neglected children (Matas).
Many researchers and volunteers have witnessed the same drastic emotional effects that animals can have on the mentally or physically disabled. At Mount Sinai hospital in New York, volunteers bring dogs to visit with patients who are in intensive physical rehabilitation (Stanley-Hermanns). Since the patients are so isolated, having an animal visitor is really a treat. The nurses often use the animals’ visits as a way to motivate the patients in their strenuous physical rehabilitation. Additionally, simply petting or throwing a ball for a dog can be “vital exercise for a patient in physical therapy” (Stanley-Hermanns). Nurses also recount a patient with severe brain damage really progress and open up in her sessions with a visiting dog (Stanley-Hermanns).
Seeing eye dogs have become very popular among the blind because of the effectiveness of the program. Most people are aware of such programs and understand how important dogs can be in the lives of those they guide. However, there are many other programs for dogs to help individuals with diseases or disabilities. For one, since dogs can sense the onset of a seizure before a person can, dogs are now being trained to alert their owners from 15 to 45 minutes before an oncoming seizure (Nash). Dogs also help patient’s with Parkinson’s diseases who experience ‘freezing’ a phenomenon in which the patient’s feet freeze in place while the rest of their body is mobile, often causing the patients to fall over. These dogs are trained to identify when a person is experiencing a freezing episode so that they can keep the person from falling or help them back on their feet (Nash).
Recent research has opened our eyes to the plentiful benefits of animal-assisted therapy as well as pet ownership. In our multi-faceted and entirely busy lives, it is important to balance efficiency with stress and anxiety. I believe that being around animals is a very safe and effective way of battling daily stress and depression in the average individual. I also advocate the many theraputic programs they have developed with animals, such as therapy for abused or impaired individuals. The possibilities are endless. The many uses of animals in benefiting our health have mostly been recent advances. If we continue to research the benefits of pet ownership, who knows how many other ways we can incorporate animals into our lives.
1. Nash, Holly. "Physical & Medical Health Benefits of Pets." Peteducation.com. 1997. Web. <http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=0+1278+1490&aid=638>
.2. Kimberly Matas. "Volunteer mixes compassion, love of dogs in helping abused children. " McClatchy - Tribune Business News 20 February 2010 ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.
4. Cunningham, Ursula. "Health Benefits of Pet Ownership." Preciouspets.org. 2003. Web. <http://www.preciouspets.org/newsletters/articles/healthbenefits.htm>.
5. Animal-Assisted Therapy; Melinda Stanley-Hermanns, Julie Miller; The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 102, No. 10 (Oct., 2002), pp. 71, Published by: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3522980
The Health Psychology Home Page is
produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.
|Return to the Health Psychology Home Page|
|Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt|