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April 2, 2012

Pet Ownership Good For Your Health?

For years there has been a belief that pet ownership is good for your health. Studies in the past report that having a pet boosts mental health in the elderly by offsetting feelings of loneliness and improving self-esteem. In younger populations, as well, dog ownership correlates with increased exercise from taking the dog for a walk.

Harold Herzog, professor of psychology at Western Carolina University (my alma mater!), has recently publish a report in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, that refutes the claim that animal ownership is always beneficial. Herzog has authored the book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

However, some evidence is emerging to refute the claim that pet ownership is good for your health. In the elderly, owning a pet increases the risk of falls, which could lead to broken bones, a devastating event for the elderly. Taking care of a pet on a limited income, especially veterinarian bills, could increase stress in the elderly. And then there is the inevitable loss of our companion animals, which can lead to a very real sense of loss and depression, no matter the age of the pet owner.

Herzog, a cat owner himself, admits that the benefit or deficit of pet ownership depends a great deal on the strengths and weaknesses of the owner. “I’m not a Grinch,” said Dr. Herzog, “but the science is not as clear as most people think.”

I share my household with 3 pet companions, all of whom are rescues (I'm polishing my halo right now). For the most part, this is not something I regret. However, I will admit to feeling overwhelmed at times, by the zaniness and laundry and annoyances of pet ownership. Right now, we are enduring a period of nocturnal hyperactivity from our black feline, which seems to come in spells, and deprives us of quality sleep. Lack of sleep makes their human companions cranky and argumentative. The other feline has a habit of sleeping on my pillow during the winter, which prevents me from finding a comfortable position and results in neck cricks. The dog, it seems, almost always needs to go out just when I've sat down to relax, letting out that first sigh, following a long day at work. She more than the others, insults my olfactory senses. All of them contribute to an increase in animal hair, and therefore housework, in my home.

Despite these complaint, they are my family and I love them.

Posted by linda at April 2, 2012 8:54 AM

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