Yet Another Scientific Paper Documents the Human Health Benefits of Pets

I'd like to thank Denise from Pacifica, California for drawing my attention to an excellent paper that appeared in the July, 2008 American Journal of...


I’d like to thank Denise from Pacifica, California for drawing my attention to an excellent paper that appeared in the July, 2008 American Journal of Critical Care. The paper touches on two of my favorite topics: the health benefits that humans derive from pets and evidence-based medicine.

The basic tenet of evidence-based medicine is very simple. That tenet states that if a treatment or therapy works, a scientific study will be able to prove its efficacy. As I mentioned in my previous post on homeopathy and herbal remedies, such studies generally are remarkably simple to perform. If there is no scientific study to support the efficacy of a treatment or remedy, the treatment or remedy may be nothing more than modern day snake oil.

So if I say that pets are good for human health, am I a modern day snake oil peddler? Definitely not. The paper, titled “The Healing Power of the Human-Animal Connection” is a review of scientific studies that document the effects of animal-assisted therapy and animal companions on humans. These studies show statistically significant health benefits in many situations.

Here are just a few of the findings that are summarized in the paper.

  • Among human cardiac patients, having a pet is correlated with increased likelihood of one-year survival.
  • Interacting with pets helps improve blood flow patterns in humans with heart failure.
  • Pet visits in a hospital setting cause patients to report less pain.
  • Hospitalized children report that animal-assisted therapy motivates them to get better.
  • Patients are not the only people to benefit from the presence of animals in the hospital. Here is a quote from the paper.

    Such positive perceptions were not limited to patients and families. Nurses believed the presence of animals made the work environment happier and more interesting, with no negative impact on space or work flow.

    The paper also points out that having a pet may make it less likely that a person will end up in the hospital in the first place.

    Research at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital showed that people who own companion animals report a highly significant reduction in minor health problems and significant improvements in psychological well-being in the first month after acquiring an animal. Households with dogs also showed an increase of 400% to 500% in walking.

    In my opinion, the final sentence of the paper paraphrases the findings in a wonderful (although not succinct) way.

    [Animal-assisted therapy] can promote healing through intentionality, personal wholeness, relationships between patients, animals and interdisciplinary staff, and environmental spaces that are truly transformational for both patients and staff.

    For reference, the paper discussed in this post is Halm, Am J Crit Care. 2008; 17: 373-376

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