Harvard Men's Health Watch

Pets and your health

Early man feared wild animals as predators but hunted them for subsistence. As people began to farm, they quickly learned to domesticate animals to share the burden of work and to provide meat, milk, and eggs. But for most modern city dwellers, animals function mainly as pets. About 60% of American households, in fact, have one or more pets. Pets can be lovable, amusing, or maddening — but can they also have an impact on health?

Placebo pets

Contact with animals may help reduce the loneliness of life in a long-term care facility. In a 2008 study, researchers in St. Louis evaluated the emotional impact of a live dog and an interactive robotic "dog." Both pets reduced loneliness to the same degree, and the long-term care residents became attached to both. As for the care and feeding...

Pets for prevention?

A variety of medical studies hint that pet ownership may promote health. As far back as 1980, doctors reported that pet owners who had heart attacks lived longer than their petless peers. The study unleashed additional investigations; one concluded that researchers who advocated pets for cardiovascular health were barking up the wrong tree, while another found benefit from dogs but not cats. Recent results also dispute earlier findings that linked pet ownership with a reduced risk of hypertension.

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