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As we know, the presence of a pet can make for a happier household. It therefore makes perfect sense that research proves pet interaction can lead to a reduction in stress, a decrease in blood pressure and the lowering of anxiety levels. Scientific studies have shown that the chances of recovery among pet owning heart patients are higher than among non-owners.
One study showed that keeping a pet significantly reduced levels of cholesterol and blood triglyceride (two risk factors for heart disease). These effects could not be explained by differences in diet, smoking or socio- economic group. This fact, combined with the reduction in blood pressure from being with a pet, may make pet owners less prone to heart attacks than non-pet owners. Pet ownership proved to be one of the best predictors of survival from a heart attack, according to an American study. The study showed that pet owners were found to have a far greater chance of surviving a heart attack.
Pet animals are used for therapeutic reasons in hospitals and nursing homes where the benefits are increasingly being recognised. Patients have something to look forward to and talk about after a pet visit. Although some of these values have been surmised since the eighteenth century, the use of animals in hospital wards is not yet common in Europe. In the United States, more than half of all nursing homes, clinics and hospitals use animals in a therapeutic capacity. Perhaps of all these positive effects on the well-being of a human patient, the most dramatic is that of a dog or a cat in the non- communicative clinically depressed patient whose withdrawal can be gently alleviated by the introduction of the pet. Such practices and their psychological benefits have received endorsement from the medical profession.
A wealth of research now shows the benefits of pet interaction to help prevent asthma and other allergies. For example, exposure to a dog in the first year of life was linked to a 13% lower risk of asthma in later childhood among a study of 650,000 children (Early Exposure to Dogs and Childhood Ashtma, JAMA Pediatrics, November 2015).
For some, the presence of a pet has even more meaning. With training, pets can help their owners to lead a more normal life, as with the case of guide dogs. For those hard of hearing there is specialised assistance available from "hearing dogs" which are trained to react to specific noises (e.g. doorbell, fire alarm and telephone) and draw their owner's attention to them. The best thing assistance dogs can provide, in addition to real help and companionship, is a large measure of independence.
A selection of research: