Cats and dogs have been hanging out with humans for at least 10,000 years, and maybe three times that long. They have their own reasons.
By living with people, our four-legged friends enjoy a more comfy and cozy existence than they could ever manage on their own. Just ask any cat or dog who lives much of its life on a couch.
For us, the delight and companionship we find in pets offers health and emotional benefits that support our well-being. Science proves it. . .
A study and survey at the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation shows that 55 percent of Americans aged 50 to 80 own a pet. Almost four out of five dog owners say that their dogs help them get more exercise.
And more than 50 percent of pet owners find pets to be unrivaled companions who help them cope with mental and physical health issues as well as helping them connect with other people.1
If your main reason for owning a pet is to be happier, another survey shows that a dog is probably your best bet. According to this report, 36 percent of dog-owners describe themselves as “very happy,” but only 18 percent of cat-owners claim the same level of contentment.2
According to Canadian research, another advantage to cat and dog ownership resides in the bacteria the animals donate to the microbial zoo your body carries around – known as “probiotic” bacteria.
This study demonstrates that cat and dog owners enjoy a lessened risk of allergies and are more likely to weigh less because the bacteria in their intestines are more varied and help their bodies keep weight off.3
The researchers say that when you own a cat or a dog, your digestive tract may possess twice as much ruminococcus and oscillospira bacteria as non-owners. These two strains are believed to promote lower weight. Plus, say the scientists, even babies born into pet-owning families get a dose of these helpful bacteria while they’re in the womb.
Pets, Probiotics, and Mood Swings
The bacteria you pick up from a dog or cat may also help improve your mood. According to researchers, dogs can endow you with about four dozen potentially mood-boosting varieties of probiotic microbes and cats contribute about two dozen or so.4
When these bacteria enter your digestive tract, researchers think they influence the neurotransmitters that are made and released in the intestines – messenger molecules that can fend off depression, relieve stress and boost memory. Studies are now underway to more completely analyze how this system works.
Doggie Love is Good for Your Heart
When it comes to avoiding heart and cardiovascular diseases, a study in Sweden also shows that having a dog offers significant benefits.
During this 12-year study, involving more than three million Swedes between the ages of 40 and 80, it was shown that people owning dogs ran a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular complications.5
“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” says researcher Mwenya Mubanga. “Single dog owners had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of myocardial infarction during follow-up compared to single non-owners.”
Of course, there are downsides to owning a pet – the expenses and the need to care for them can compete with other priorities in your life. But on the whole, I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I even found a study that showed that if you suffer chronic pain, having a dog in the house may not relieve your pain but it makes you feel better in other ways – reducing feelings of depression and anxiety.6
From my point of view, a furry companion sure beats taking medication for those sorts of problems!