Pets are good for you!
No one understands the human-animal bond better than the dedicated team at the Animal Welfare League.
The AWL have been working tirelessly for more than 50 years to help lonely and unloved dogs and cats, providing them with a second chance at happiness in a ‘forever home’.
But it’s important to remember it's not all a one-way street - what owners provide for their pets, pets give back to their owners tenfold.
Pets are a significant part of everyday life in Australia. According to market researcher Euromonitor International, there are an estimated 21.9 million pets in Australia – that means Australia has almost as many pets as people! With just over 8.2 million households, Australia has one of the highest incidences of pet ownership in the world, with 36% of households owning a dog and 23% owning a cat.
According to the Australian Companion Animal Council’s report The Power of Pets, the roles pets play and their impact on our lives have been studied by scientists and researchers since the late 1960s. The most interesting and important fact about human-animal interaction is that it can actually improve the quality of our lives, providing both psychological and physiological benefits. In fact, the majority of pet owners are healthier than those people without pets.
Pets as Companions
The reliable and unconditional companionship provided by pets results in 91% of owners feeling ‘very close’ to their pets – almost as many say they feel as close to their families1. Studies have shown that with pet ownership there is a marked increase in social contact. This has shown to be significantly important with disabled people who have an animal with them.
Pets as Social Enablers
A study by the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health found that more than 50% of dog owners and 40% of pet owners in general meet people in their neighbourhood as a result of their pet, and more than 80% of dog owners talk to other people when out walking their dogs2,3. These social bridges are referred to as ‘the glue that holds society together’, also known as social capital. The building of social capital is known to have positive effects on the health and economic viability of a society.
The positive impact of pets on cardiovascular health was first recognised in the early 1980s when a study found that pet owners were much less likely to die in the 12 months following a heart attack than non-pet owners4. The results were then replicated in the mid 1990s. It is this specific area of research the made the medical community take notice of the ‘pets are good for you’ premise.
Less Visits to the Doctor
Several studies have shown that pet ownership may influence the need for medical services. They have clearly demonstrated that dog and cat owners make fewer annual visits to the doctor and spend less time in hospital5.
Pets & the Elderly
Pets have been shown to greatly increase quality of life for the elderly, including reduced tension, fatigue and confusion, and increased feelings of enthusiasm, interest and inspiration6,7. The role of pets is particularly significant for those who live in a nursing home or in some form of assisted care. Numerous studies show pets provide one of the few interventions capable of permanently lifting the atmosphere of hospices and nursing homes.
Children, Social Development & Family Life
More than being a simple playmate and confidante, pets also aid childhood development, especially nurturing and social skills. It has been shown that growing up with a dog (and other pets to a lesser extent) during infancy helps strengthen the immune system and reduces the risk of allergies linked to asthma8. In addition, young children aged five to six in a family which owns a dog are 50% less likely to be overweight or obese compared with those who do not own a dog. Self-esteem has been shown to be higher in children and adolescents who have a pet9. School children who own pets have been shown to be more popular with their classmates and are also more empathetic10.
The Animal Welfare League of South Australia would like to thank the Australian Companion Animal Council for providing the information in this article.
Did you know...
- 56% of women say their pet is more affectionate than their partner1
- Pets delay the ageing process
- 81% of owners never feel alone when with their pet1
- 50% of dog owners meet neighbours as a result of their dog2,3
- Teenagers with dogs believe life is more fun and have a more positive outlook11
- Australian Companion Animal Council. 2006. Contribution of the Petcare Industry to the Australian Economy. 6th Edition.
- Lisa Wood, Billie Giles-Corti, Max Bulsara. 2005. The pet connection: pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science and Medicine 61; 1159-1173.
- The pet connection: pets as a conduit for social capital? Lisa Wood, Billie Giles-Corti, Max Bulsara; School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia. Social Science and Medicine 61. 2005. 1159-1173.
- Friedmann, E., Katcher, A. H., Lynch, J. J. and Thomas, S. A. 1980. ‘Animal Companions and one year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit.’ Public Health Reports, 95, pp 307-312.
- McHarg et al. 1995. National People and Pets Survey a report to the urban Animal Management Coalition, 20.
- Crowley-Robinson, P., Fenwick, D., C. And Blackshaw, J.K. 1996. ‘A long-term study of elderly people in nursing homes with visiting and resident dogs’. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 147, 137-148.
- Richeson, N. and McCullough, W. 2003. ‘A therapeutic recreation intervention using animal assisted therapy: effects on the subjective well-being of older adults’. Annual in Therapeutic Recreation.
- Gern, J. E., Reardon, C. L., Hoffjan, S. et al. 2004. ‘Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy’. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. 113 (2): 307-14.
- Filiatre, J., C, Millot, J. L. and Montagner, H. 1985. ‘New findings on communication behaviour between the young child and his pet dog’. Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Human-Pet Relationship, 5057,Vienna: IEMT.
- Guttman, G., Predovic, M. and Zemanek, M. 1983. ‘The influence of pet ownership on non-verbal communication and social competence in children’. Proceedings of The Human-Pet Relationship: international symposium on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Nobel Prize winner Prof Konrad Lorenz. Vienna: Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on the Human-Pet Relationship.
- Bergler, R. 1995. ‘The influence of dogs on the behaviour of juveniles in the big cities’. Presented at animals, health and quality of life, proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions, Geneva, September.