Can pets really improve your health?

Maddy in PAT coat

Maddy in PAT coat - Credit: Archant

Hearing that unmistakable pitter patter of paws as you get home after a long, hard day definitely offers a welcome boost.

Claire Taylor and Maddy

Claire Taylor and Maddy - Credit: Archant

But the link between health and pets goes a lot deeper. Richard Porritt investigates.

It is widely accepted that if you have a pet you are healthier physically and mentally.

People form strong bonds with their animals and with dogs they are required to get off the sofa and walk them.

But most pet owners will tell you it goes deeper than that. So, can having a pet really make a difference to your healthy?

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What benefits?

For decades researchers have been extolling the simple health benefits of pet ownership.

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But what are they?

Pets ward off allergies

It was long thought that this was in fact not the case but research carried out at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that children who grew up around pets were actually less likely to develop allergies as they grow up.

In fact the results were startling – only 19% of people with pets developed allergies to animals as opposed to 33% of those without.

Pets bring people together Isolation is a major problem in the UK with terrifying numbers of older people in particular going weeks without human contact.

But walk a dog through a park and the usual boundaries are broken down. Socialisation becomes much easier when there is something, or someone, frolicking about around you to talk about.

It has also been recorded as a great way for those looking for love to find a suitable partner.

Well, they already have their dogs in common.

Pets are stress busters

The study was simple. Gather some super-stressed stockbrokers and give them puppies to care for.

Sounds like a recipe for trouble. But, in fact, the results were incredible and heartwarming.

The Masters of the Universe loosened their braces, undid their ties and, finally, chilled out.

Furthermore prior to getting their puppies, the stockbrokers all had high blood pressure.

After looking after their pets to look after? Their blood pressure readings plummeted.

Pets are good for your heart

Of course there is a possible link to being more active with this research but the results show that owning a pet means you are less likely to suffer a heart attack.

Another study also showed that men who had suffered a heart attack were more likely to recover successfully if they owned a pet.

Man’s best friend

The latest study on the link between humans and their pets shows something truly startling.

A study in American journal Physiology and Behaviour found there is a mirroring of hormones between dogs and their owners.

So if you are stressed the dog can literally feel it. Likewise increased levels of oxytocin – the love hormone – in owners is replicated in dogs.

Magical Maddy

None of these revelations will be a shock to Claire Taylor, from Colchester.

The retired accountant is a volunteer with charity Pets as Therapy and sees the incredible affect her five-year-old coton de tulear Maddy has on people.

“I take Maddy to visit young people with some mental health difficulties,” she said.

“And the kids just come alive.

“I have done a lot of training with Maddy and she loves people so it is a perfect fit.

“The kids love to teach her tricks or make her do their favourites.

“I take along the agility equipment and they run her through the course. “It is fascinating to see the spark that she inspires.

“I only see the children when they are with the dog but I am told the transformation is quite incredible.

“The staff are always saying to me that the children are animated and happy when they are with Maddy.

“There is a deep understanding and empathy between people and dogs.

“Dogs offer you no criticism, they have no prejudices. They just want to love you and to be loved back.”

Pets as Therapy dogs visit all kinds of organisations across the UK from schools to homes for older people.

Claire added: “When I have been to old people’s homes the happiness on their faces when the dog arrives is clear.

“More homes should get dogs because I really do believe it will mean happier residents.

“And the dogs adore the attention and love they receive in return.”

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