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24 April 2017
Do Pets Really Improve a Person’s Health?
Are you feeling stressed and depressed? Is your blood pressure up and your self-esteem down? Get a pet, and you’ll feel better
physically and mentally, according to conventional wisdom. But does pet ownership really have a significant effect on one’s health?
Recent studies have produced widely varying results, but it seems likely that the primary benefits of pet ownership are associated with the
increase in physical activity and social interaction that comes with taking care of dogs, and in some cases owning a pet can actually put
one’s health or happiness at risk.
"We do best medically and emotionally when we feel securely attached to another," says psychiatrist Greg Fricchione, director of
the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (qtd. in “The Health Benefits” 3). Owning a pet can be an excellent way of achieving
this feeling, Fricchione goes on: “No matter what you do or say, your dog or cat accepts you and is attached to you” (qtd. in “the Health
Benefits” 3). This feeling of acceptance is essential to humans as social animals, but there is also a physiological element in the happiness
pet owners can derive from living with their animals. Simply gazing into a dog’s eyes, according to Fricchione, can boost a person’s
oxytocin, a brain chemical associated with both bonding and a feeling of well-being (“The Health Benefits” 3).
Some support for this belief that pet ownership can improve one’s mental state has been provided by a recent study showing that
HIV positive men who own pets experience less depression than those without pets. However, pet ownership also involves risk; the loss of
a pet, especially if it was a close companion or was associated with a deceased loved one, can trigger severe depression. In fact, one
Australian study suggested that pet owners, especially women, experience more depression than non-pet owners (Arhant-Sudhir et al.