STUDIES have shown that owning a dog may help people live longer. Not only can pet ownership provide motivation to get up in the morning but also to be active, to go for a walk, promote conversations and be less socially isolated.

Because we all need to be needed, having a pet to care for can provide purpose and meaning in life. Caring for, feeding, and exercising an animal so that they too can have a happy, healthy life, creates a mutually beneficial relationship.

Companion animals can be incredibly good stress-therapists. Talking to, and stroking animals can lower the human heart rate and blood pressure, therefore working wonders for stress levels. Our pets are non-judgemental providers of unconditional love, so it’s no wonder some of us love them so much and consider them family.

Results from a 12-year-long Swedish research study involving 3.4 million people indicate that people living with a dog are more likely to live longer. The reason can not be exactly pinpointed, but it is thought that owning a dog motivates people to be more active and have less occurrences of depression. People living alone benefit significantly from the protective effect.

According to the study’s authors, participants who are healthier and active may have been that way before they chose to own a dog, so a cause and effect relationship can not be scientifically established. However, a positive correlation between owning a dog and good human health is supported by other scientific studies.

One American doctor, Trisha McNair, who specialises in the relationships between longevity and lifestyle, believes owning a dog can add an extra two years to a lifespan.

Also, the American Heart Association has noted a lower occurrence of heart disease in people who own dogs.

While it’s not factual to say that caring for a dog will definitely make a person live longer, the increased wellbeing and participation in exercise may contribute to a better quality and longer life.

Caring for a cat can also provide health benefits. In a Minnesota Stroke Institute study, 4000 cat owners monitored over a period of 10 years showed their heart attack risk was cut by almost one-third, and their risk of dying from heart disease was lessened.

Carey Conn is a volunteer at SPCA Kawerau Centre.

by Carey Conn