Sitting in my dorm today, I received a text from my mom. Upon opening it, I saw that it was a cute picture of my dog with her leash on and the message below read, “I need a walk, Sarah!” As my job at home is walking my dog, a Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix, I felt a little sad and homesick. I know my two younger brothers aren’t taking as good of care of my dog as I would if I were home. The thought was a little frustrating. However, the question for my next blog topic came to me. Do pets increase our happiness and therefore our health? Is there anything about having a pet that makes your life intrinsically better?
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that because pets give their owners some form of socialization, it at the very least increases their levels of happiness, which in turn improves their health. A Psychology Today article also summarized a few other studies performed, which all boiled down to the answer that, yes, pets are capable of giving their owners a great outlet for socialization. They don’t exactly replace the positives that come from actual human relationships, but pet owners have been shown to have higher self esteem and be less lonely. But does the happiness these pets provide translate to better overall health?
University of Sydney researchers seem to think so. They are in the midst of a study on this exact topic, trying to determine if dog owners live longer and are at a lower risk of heart disease and depression. Another study plans to test pet owner’s level of oxytocin upon seeing their pet. Although neither of these studies have been concluded, I found it interesting that many scientists have the same hypothesis as me and I will be sure to check up on these studies after they are resolved. However, in my research a possible confounding variable did strike me. Perhaps dog owners have lower levels of heart disease and depression because they’re forced to exercise due to having a dog in the first place.
A study performed by the American Heart Association confirmed my confounding variable idea, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. They found because of the exercise that comes with owning a dog, there seems to be a correlation between pet ownership and lower cholesterol, heart rate, and blood pressure. To be fair, as this article mentions, pets are not a cure for these issues, but they do have great potential to assist you in living a healthy life.
So there have been many conclusive studies that prove that at the very least, the amount of exercise that comes from owning a pet and the companionship they offer can lead to better health. Pets may not be a cure-all, but they’re certainly something to considering owning if you’re lonely or stressed and have the time and money to care for them. That question was resolved, but unfortunately all this research just made me miss my dog more.
Photo credit: http://dogtime.com/dog-breeds/cockapoo#/slide/1