Tag Archives: health

How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging

Two-thirds of all pet owners say that having an animal helps them stay physically active. But for some older adults, time commitment, cost and allergies stand in the way.

A curled-up cat, a tail-wagging dog, a chirping parakeet or even a serene goldfish may help older adults cope with mental and physical health issues, according to a new poll, the National Poll on Healthy Aging (USA).

But while pets come with benefits, they can also bring concerns, and some people may even put their animals’ needs ahead of their own health, the poll finds.

In all, 55 percent of adults ages 50 to 80 have a pet, according to the new findings — and more than half of those have multiple pets. More than three-quarters of pet owners say their animals reduce their stress, and nearly as many say pets give them a sense of purpose. But 18 percent also said having a pet or pets puts a strain on their budget.

Two-thirds of all pet owners, and 78 percent of dog owners, said their pet helps them be physically active, according to the new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

The poll is conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

For those who reported that their health was fair or poor, pet ownership appeared to offer even more benefits. More than 70 percent of these older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and 46 percent said their pets help take their mind off of pain.

“We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” says Cathleen Connell, Ph.D., a professor at the U-M School of Public Health who has studied the role of companion animals in older adults’ lives.

“Although the benefits of pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to quality of life across the life span,” she says. “Helping older adults find low-cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health.”

Poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., a U-M Medical School professor who has training in caring for older adults, says the poll results indicate a need for physicians and other health care providers to ask older adults about the role of pets in their lives.

“More activity, through dog walking or other aspects of pet care, is almost always a good thing for older adults,” Malani says. “But the risk of falls is real for many, and 6 percent of those in our poll said they had fallen or injured themselves due to a pet.”

“At the same time, given the importance of pets to many people, the loss of a pet can deal a very real psychological blow that providers, family and friends should be attuned to,” she says.

Mich-AgingPollPet-Graphic_0

“This study highlights the many physical, psychological and social benefits that pets can have for older adults,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “In recognition of these health benefits, more assisted living facilities today are allowing residents to have pets.”

Pet positives

Companionship and social connection were positive side effects of pet ownership for many poll respondents.

In fact, more than half of those who owned pets said they did so specifically to have a companion — and a slightly higher percentage said their pets sleep in bed with them. Sixty-five percent of pet owners said having a pet helps connect them to other people, too.

“Relationships with pets tend to be less complicated than those with humans, and pets are often a source of great enjoyment,” says Mary Janevic, Ph.D., MPH, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health who helped design the poll. “They also provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved.”

Pet problems

Other concerns about pet ownership emerged in the poll results. More than half of pet owners said that having a pet also made it difficult to travel or enjoy activities outside the home.

And 1 in 6 said that they put their pet’s needs ahead of their own health needs — a figure that was closer to 1 in 4 among those with health issues.

“Later life is often a time when people have more freedom to travel, and a long list of things they want to do with their free time, and sometimes having a pet can get in the way,” says Janevic.

“For people living on a fixed income, expenses related to health care for pets, and especially pets that have chronic health issues, can be a struggle,” she says. “Older adults can also develop health problems or disabilities that make pet care difficult.”

The non-pet-owner perspective

The 45 percent of older adults who said they don’t have pets gave many reasons for not keeping a dog, cat, fish, lizard, bird or small mammal around.

Among non-pet owners, 42 percent said they didn’t want to be tied down. Twenty percent said they didn’t have time, and 23 percent gave cost as the reason, while 16 percent said their own allergies, or those of someone in their household, kept them from getting a pet.

For those who can’t own pets due to allergies, budget constraints, housing circumstances or schedules, there’s often a need for volunteers at local animal shelters or pet-sitting for friends and family, the researchers say.

They note that health care providers and family may even want to recommend these options to older adults who have no pets and wish to have one.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,051 adults ages 50 to 80 who answered a wide range of questions online. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Laptops and internet access were provided to poll respondents who did not already have them.

A full report of the findings and methodology is available at healthyagingpoll.org, along with past National Poll on Healthy Aging reports.

Health benefits of owning a dog (video version)

Throughout this blog, you’ll find articles about research involving dogs.  Some of these articles can be quite lengthy, so I was pleased when Time published this short video – all of the key points about the health benefits of owning a dog in one place.

If you’re really busy, or simply not interested in reading the full research, this video is for you!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Pets save UK National Health Service

Pets account for millions of pounds worth of economic activity in the UK and may reduce National Health Service (NHS) costs by nearly two and a half billion pounds, according to a new report. companion-animal-economics

Drawing on multiple sources, and written by internationally respected animal welfare and business experts, Companion Animal Economics comprehensively documents the economic impact of pets in the UK – the first time such an assessment has been made for nearly 40 years. The study directly examines available evidence on the direct and indirect benefits and costs of companion animals to society, including their influence on human mental and physical health, illness prevention and well-being.

Published by CABI, Companion Animal Economics was developed by Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln UK, and Dr Sandra McCune, Human-Animal Interaction expert at Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. Mars Petcare UK provided sponsorship towards the cost of producing the report. Other authors include Dr Sophie Hall from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, Professor Ted Fuller and Luke Dolling from the Lincoln International Business School, and Katie Bristow-Wade of Dogs for Good.

“Vets are well aware how important companion animals are to their owners, but it is important that they appreciate the impact that they can have on the physical, mental and social health of both individuals and society more widely,” says Professor Daniel Mills. “This book should help raise awareness of this and their economic importance in times of economic uncertainty.”

First major study since 1988
“Almost half of households in the UK share their homes with animals cared for as companions – a relationship we consider to be valuable and enriching,” says Dr McCune. ‘This important report provides a modern day update on the impact of companion animals on the UK economy and society, without reducing the discussion to a simplistic cost-benefits ratio. Critically, it aims to raise awareness of the need for research to evaluate the complex routes by which pets make an economic impact on UK society.”

Relatively little information on the economic impact of pets has been published since the 1988 seminal Council for Science and Society (CSS) report on Companion Animals in Society, which inspired Companion Animal Economics. Since then, trends in pet ownership, and associated industries, have changed a great deal. The report’s methodology sought to capture this new context, including issues like pet tourism, pet obesity, and expanding veterinary services, identifying clear gaps where further high-quality data and additional research are needed.

Costs as well as benefits
When evaluating the contribution of companion animals to the UK economy, both positive and negative aspects were considered. The cost of NHS treatment for bites and strikes from dogs is estimated at £3 million per year. At the same time, the report also estimates that pet ownership in the UK may reduce use of the UK health service by up to £2.45 billion per year. This conservative conclusion is drawn through examining healthcare savings through reduced number of doctor visits.

Given the scale of the potential impact, the report concludes that research into companion animals and their economic impact on society needs further investigation and should be supported by government. While UK data were used in the report, many of the points raised relate to other industrialised nations, demonstrating the global nature of this issue.

Book details & Link:
Companion Animal Economics. The Economic Impact of Companion Animals in the UK.  S Hall, Research Fellow. University of Lincoln, UK, L Dolling, PhD student. University of Lincoln, UK, K Bristow, Dogs for Good, UK, T Fuller, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Foresight. University of Lincoln, UK, D Mills, University of Lincoln, UK

Source:  Waltham.com

Awareness of the human-animal bond and how it impacts pet care

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation partnered with Cohen Research Group to conduct an online survey of 2,000 pet owners, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2%.

This is the first survey of its kind to explore how pet owners’ knowledge of the health benefits of the human-animal bond impacts pet care and welfare. The survey also looked for generational differences among pet owners on this subject.

img_0743

Key findings are as follows:

There is strong awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership

  • 71% of pet owners have heard about scientific research on the human-animal bond that demonstrates pet ownership can help improve physical or mental health in people
  • 88% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce stress
  • 86% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce depression
  • 84% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce anxiety
  • 81% of pet owners were aware that pets increase our sense of well-being
  • 80% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like PTSD in war veterans
  • 68% of pet owners were aware that pets support healthy aging
  • 65% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like autism
  • 60% of pet owners were aware that pets improve heart health
  • 56% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease
  • 47% of pet owners were aware that pets support child cognitive development and reading skills
  • 45% of pet owners were aware that pets support classroom learning
  • 32% of pet owners were aware that pets help prevent child allergies

The majority of pet owners have personal experience with the health benefits of pets.

  • 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership
  • 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership
  • 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements from pet ownership
  • 55% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s physical health has improved from pet ownership
  • 83% of baby boomers and 82% of greatest/silent generations reported more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets than millennials (62%) and generation X (72%)

The more pet owners learn about scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond, the more likely they are to take actions to improve pet health.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 92% of pet owners are more likely to maintain their pet’s health, including keeping up with vaccines and preventative medicine
  • 89% of pet owners are more likely to take their pet to the vet for regular check-ups
  • 88% of pet owners are more likely to provide their pets with high-quality nutrition
  • 62% of pet owners are less likely to skip visits to the veterinarian
  • 51% of pet owners (78% of millennials) are more likely to purchase pet health insurance

Knowledge of the scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond improves animal welfare.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 89% of pet owners are more likely to take better care of their pets
  • 75% of pet owners are more likely to microchip a pet to ensure it can be found if lost or stolen
  • 74% of pet owners are less likely to give up a pet for any reason

In addition:

  • 77% of pet owners believe that pets benefit from the human-animal bond as much as people
  • 80% of pet owners who were aware of the health benefits of pets reported spending most of the day or a big part of their day with their pets, compared to 71% of pet owners who were unaware

Knowledge of the scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond boosts pet ownership.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 87% of pet owners are more likely to recommend a pet to a friend or family member
  • 81% of pet owners are more likely to get another pet in the future (if the one they have now passes away)
  • 49% of pet owners (74% of millennials) are more likely to get an additional pet
  • 57% of pet owners that currently reported having multiple pets are more likely to get yet another pet

Veterinarians are trusted resources for scientific information on the human health benefits of pets and have an opportunity to further strengthen their relationships with pet owners, especially millennials.

  • Virtually all pet owners (97%) have a favorable opinion of their veterinarian
  • 66% of pet owners (77% of millennials) would have a more favorable view of their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 61% of pet owners (74% of millennials) would be more likely to visit their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 25% of millennials always talk to their veterinarians about the health benefits of pet ownership, more than generation X (16%), baby boomers (6%), or greatest/silent generation (4%)

Doctors can also benefit from increased communication on the human-animal bond.

  • 88% of pet owners agree doctors and specialists should recommend pets to patients for healthier living
  • 65% of pet owners would have a more favorable view of a doctor who discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 59% of pet owners would be more likely to visit a doctor who discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them

Pet owners believe society should be more pet friendly and should act on the scientific research that shows pets improve human health.

  • 93% of pet owners agree the government should provide service animals to veterans with PTSD
  • 69% of pet owners (83% of millennials) agree the government should help make it more affordable to own a pet
  • 84% agree health and life insurance companies should give discounts for owning a pet
  • 87% would be more likely to buy products from pet-friendly businesses
  • 58% of pet owners (74% of millennials) agree employers should consider allowing employees to bring pets to work

Pets are family

  • 98% of pet owners agree that their pet is an important part of their family
  • 95% of pet owners could not imagine giving up their pet for any reason

Source:  HABRI

Senior adults see benefits from dog ownership

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA) recommends that adults of all ages should engage in 150 or more minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Among adults 60 years of age or more, walking is the most common form of leisure-time physical activity because it is self-paced, low impact and does not require equipment.

Johnson and Dog - senior dogs

Rebecca Johnson and her team determined that older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions. Photo by University of Missouri

Researchers at the University of Missouri have determined that older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions. Dog walking is associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, more frequent exercise and an increase in social benefits for seniors.

“Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults,” said Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample.”

The study analyzed 2012 data from the Health and Retirement study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The study included data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits and health outcomes of the participants.

“Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults,” said Johnson, who also serves as director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at MU. “These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”

Results from the study also indicated that people with higher degrees of pet bonding were more likely to walk their dogs and to spend more time walking their dogs each time than those who reported weaker bonds. Additionally, the study showed that pet walking offers a means to socialize with pet owners and others.

Retirement communities also could be encouraged to incorporate more pet-friendly policies such as including dog walking trails and dog exercise areas so that their residents could have access to the health benefits, Johnson said.

Source:  University of Missouri media release

Kids with dogs have less anxiety

A research team at Bassett Medical Center in New York has found that kids with a dog at home experience far less clinical anxiety than do children who are dog-less.

This small study adds to the growing body of knowledge about the human-animal bond and the positive health impacts of dog ownership.

Child and dog

Read more about this study on NBC News.


Other blog posts about kids, dogs and health:

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Get Healthy, Get a Dog

The Harvard Medical School has published a special health report entitled Get Healthy, Get a Dog:  The health benefits of canine companionship. 

The report details the many ways that dogs can improve the lives of humans.

Get Healthy, Get a DogIn promoting the report, the School says:

There are many reason why dogs are called humans’ best friends: not only do they offer unparalleled companionship, but a growing body of research shows they also boost human health. Owning a dog can prompt you to be more physically active — have leash, will walk. It can also:

  • help you be calmer, more mindful, and more present in your life
  • make kids more active, secure, and responsible
  • improve the lives of older individuals
  • make you more social and less isolated

Just petting a dog can reduce the petter’s blood pressure and heart rate (while having a positive effect on the dog as well).

The report can be purchased in print (US$20), in .pdf electronic version (US$18) or both (US$29) from this webpage.

I’m pleased to see this type of publication coming from such a reputable institution.  Dogs and humans both benefit when  humans take responsibility for a committed and healthy relationship.  I particularly like that the report also covers grief, since we all will face grieving the loss of beloved pet (given the odds – since we live a lot longer than our dogs do).

The chapters in the report include:

  • Our dogs, ourselves
    • Benefits of dog ownership
    • Service dogs
  • How dogs make us healthier
    • Physical activity
    • Cardiovascular benefits
    • Reduced asthma and allergies in kids
    • Psychological benefits
    • How human contact benefits dogs
  • SPECIAL SECTION
    • Nutrition guidelines for dogs
  • Exercise for you and your dog
    • Exercise whys and wherefores
    • The exercise prescription for people
    • Exercise guidelines for dogs
    • Help your dog avoid injuries
    • Walking with your dog
    • Hiking
    • Running
    • Biking
    • Swimming
    • Playing fetch, Frisbee, or flying disc
    • Agility training
    • Skijoring
    • Playing inside the house
  • Adopting a dog
    • Deciding on the qualities you want
    • Breed considerations
    • Finding your dog
  • How to be a responsible dog owner
    • Basic equipment
    • Veterinary care
    • Dogs in cars
    • Providing for your dog while you’re at work
  • Raising a well-behaved dog
    • Obedience training
    • Housetraining
    • Keeping dogs off furniture … or not
    • Soothing the anxious hound
  • Grieving a loss
  • Resources
  • Glossary

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand