The many good reasons for having a family pet
From dog walking to kitten cuddles and even watching fish, pet ownership brings a host of bonuses for your family’s health and wellbeing.
Australians own an estimated 24 million pets – with about two-thirds of households living with a furry (or scaly or feathery) friend.
And that’s good news because not only are pets fun for the whole family, but experts say they significantly enrich our lives with a range of health and wellbeing benefits.
Why are pets good for you?
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners director Dr Krystyna de Lange says the evidence suggests animal ownership does more than entertain.
“From a physical health perspective, owning a pet may improve cardiovascular health, physical fitness,” Krystyna says.
“The psycho-social benefits of pet ownership are also really important.”
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The benefits of kids having a pet
A growing body of evidence supports animal ownership from a young age, with numerous upsides for kids.
“Pets may play a role in self-esteem, autonomy and empathy, and children who own pets show increased trust, community feeling, safety, self-confidence and self enhancement,” says Krystyna.
“It can also provide important life lessons around reproduction, illness, death and grief.”
And having a dog from a young age has been linked to fewer allergies while growing up.
How pets help older people
While animals generally keep pet owners more active, they also provide companionship for elderly people.
“Pet ownership may be one strategy for helping with social isolation and loneliness, which are known to have links with poorer mental health, physical health and earlier death,” says Krystyna.
There is research to suggest that animals can also improve social interaction for people with dementia.
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Cats vs dogs: The great debate
This question has long plagued animal owners and some research does tend to suggest one may be better than the other.
Dog owners have been found to walk more and have a lower chance of developing heart problems.
However, when it comes to which animals are better for health “it’s hard to say conclusively”, says Krystyna.
“Certainly, the physical fitness benefits are more likely to be seen with pets that need exercising and the obvious one that you think of here is walking a dog,” she says.
“Overall though more research is needed to look at the potentially different effects of different types of pets on particular problems.”
January is Walk Your Dog Month.
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Written by Alex White.