Pets are good for your healthBy Veita Bland, M.D. / March 11, 2022
I proudly proclaim myself as a loving pet parent. Yes, I know many veterinarians frown upon the term pet parent but what else are we, certainly not just pet owners. Our pets are our babies and are very much a part of the family. They certainly shower us with lots of love. No, they cannot clean up after themselves but neither do they have attitudes, roll their eyes are just ignore us the way our human children may do.
So, it warms my heart when I see studies that confirm how fabulous our pets are for our health. It has long been known that their mere presence can lower our blood pressures, comfort us, put us in a better mood and add to our quality of life. Those virtues alone are worth their weight in gold for what they do for our health.
New research looked at older adults, defined as 50 years and older. The study divided research participants into groups; one group consisting of pet owners and those who were not pet owners.
The study then divided the pet owners into those who have been long term pet owners, defined as owning a pet for five years or more and those with less than five years of pet ownership.
Of the participants, 53 percent were pet owners and 32 percent of were long term pet owners. The researchers determined that the pet owners were less likely to have elevated blood pressure (44 percent vs. 49 percent) but more likely to have depression (24 percent vs. 14 percent). Pet owners also had higher socioeconomic status.
Cognitive tests were administered to study participants over the next six years and there was a slower decline in cognitive skills with the pet owners and particularly so among the long-term pet owners. Interestingly, the cognitive benefits associated with longer pet ownership were more prominent in African American adults, college educated adults and men.
Some have wondered whether the association of pets promoting a slower decline in cognitive function has to do with increased physical activity, which is often required to care for a pet. Is it the chronic reduction in stress that the pet promotes? The idea that pet ownership and physical activity can decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and reduce blood pressure may be the answer.
There is still much to understand before the answer is truly definitive. Therefore, more research on this topic should be done.
It is known that an unwanted separation from a pet from a long-term owner can be devastating.
Although the study did not necessarily recommend people get pets as they age to combat cognitive decline, some recommendations were made. For example, support should be in place to help owners keep their pets. This would include a system that could provide foster parents for pets if their owners were ill until they are able to care for them again. Regulating and abolishing pet fees on rental property especially in marginalized and low-income communities, should be considered.
As a proud pet parent who always knew her babies were good for her, I am happy to see this study and as I often say, “Me the cat and the dog, we like each other.”
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org.