How Do Animals Affect Our Health and Mood?

Pets owners know well that at some point they turn from “just funny animals” and “those we have tamed” into real family members. And, like family members, they affect our physical and mental health.

More communication and fewer visits to the doctor

Doctors and scientists have long argued that for single seniors, pets are a pill for age-related anxiety. In the sense that the negative effects of loneliness can lead to premature death, and the need to care for someone who is completely dependent on you contributes to overall well-being. They also found that walking the dog increased social interaction, especially with strangers, compared to walking without the dog.

In terms of health in general, several studies have shown that having pets reduces doctor visits. So, in a large German study, which collected data from the owners of not only dogs and cats but also birds, fish, and horses (more than 9000 people in total) in 1996 and 2001, it showed that pet owners went to the doctor with complaints much less frequently. A similar Chinese study, in turn, suggested that women with dogs took fewer sick days than women who did not have a dog.

Animals and allergies: how it works

It is believed that pets protect against allergic reactions, so if a child grows up in a house with a dog or cat, it’s even good. But the truth is that research on the topic is mixed – and it’s probably too early to talk about anything.

It is known, for example, that having a dog in the home does not protect against specific dog allergies. On the other hand, lab mice proved to be immune to allergies when they were exposed to dust collected from houses with dogs (scientists think it’s a special type of intestinal bacteria that are often present in the house where dogs live).

It is possible that the age of exposure may also affect the protective properties of animals in terms of allergies. For example, children 6–7 years old who lived in a house with a bird during their first year of life were more likely to have respiratory symptoms, including wheezing, than their peers who never had a bird. But then again, another study found that if a pregnant woman spent a lot of time with her dog, her baby had a lower risk of developing eczema.

Can animals save us from depression?

Some people are more attached to their pets than others, and this can of course affect their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There is evidence that dog ownership is associated with lower rates of depression among women (but not men) and among single people (but not married). It turns out that although a pet can have a positive effect on mental health, this recipe cannot be considered universal.

It is worth adding here that a pet should, in any case, be an adjunct to therapy, and not an independent method of treatment. Because with depressive symptoms or any other signs of mental problems, it is important to deal with a specialist’s office, and not on a walk with a furry friend.

Pets and the pandemic

Despite the fact that the story is very recent, scientists have managed to see how isolation with pets affects us. They found that 90% of the time the animals helped the owners cope with the forced need to stay at home, and 96% of the cases allowed them to keep fit and stay active. So, while there are sanitary risks associated with owning fluffy and not-so-good friends (this is us about dangerous diseases, including rabies, but not about the coronavirus, which pets cannot transmit), they can be avoided by regularly going to the veterinarian.

Anastasia Fetter

Anastasia Fetter