By Pierre Mouchette | Bits-n-Pieces
It is estimated that 68% of U.S. households have a pet. But who benefits from an animal? And which type of pet brings health benefits? Scientists are looking at the potential physical and mental health benefits for different animals, from fish to guinea pigs to dogs and cats.
Possible Health Effects
Research on human-animal interactions is relatively new. Some studies have shown positive health effects, but the results have been mixed. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.
Animals Helping People
Animals can serve as a source of comfort and support. Therapy dogs are especially good at this. They are sometimes brought into hospitals or nursing homes to help reduce the patient's stress and anxiety. Dogs are very present: If someone struggles with something, they know how to sit there and be loving. Their attention is focused on the person all the time.
Some of the studies that are currently being untaken are:
Animal germ exposure and transference - researchers are studying the safety of bringing animals into hospital settings because animals may expose people to more germs. Scientists are testing children's hands to see if dangerous germs are transferred from the dog after the visit.
Dogs in the classroom - helping children with ADHD focus their attention. Children who read to dogs showed better social skills, more sharing, cooperation, and volunteering. They also had fewer behavioral problems. The researchers suggest that the animals offered unconditional acceptance, making them a calm comfort to the children.
Fish and responsibility – one study showed that caring for fish helped teens with diabetes better manage their disease. Researchers had a group of teens with diabetes care for a pet fish by feeding, checking water levels, and changing the fish tank water weekly. The task was paired with reviewing their blood glucose (blood sugar) logs with their parents. The researchers noted that the teens given the fish responsibility were more disciplined about checking their blood glucose levels (essential for maintaining their health) than those who were not.
Helping Each Other
Pets bring new responsibilities. Knowing how to care for and feed an animal is part of owning a pet. These studies look into the effects of human-animal interactions for both the pet and the person. One must remember that animals can feel stressed and fatigued, too. So, children need to recognize signs of stress in their pets and know when not to approach them. Dog bite prevention is certainly an issue parents must consider, especially for young children who do not always know the boundaries of what is appropriate to do with a dog. Animal bites can cause serious harm!
While this research worked for most children, some still did not help. Researchers will continue to explore the health effects of having a pet and find out what's working, what's not working, and what's safe For humans and animals.
This page provides articles on Life and Life-Health on Mondays and Wednesdays, about your best friends, Cats, and Dogs, and then on Fridays on Environmental issues.