Creature comforts: Why owning a pet makes you 'happier and more likely to live longer'

owning a pet
Rens Hageman
Rens Hageman

Owning a lively pet may sometimes prove exasperating, but it appears all the effort is worth it.

Pet owners are healthier, have greater self-esteem and are less lonely than those who don't have animals at home, according to a study. Not only that, but they are also more conscientious, extroverted and less fearful, researchers at the American Psychological Association said. They believe that pets serve as important sources of social and emotional support for the average person, and not just individuals facing significant health challenges.

Lead researcher, Allen R McConnell, of Miami University in Ohio, said: 'We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions. 'Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.

'Pet owners are just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals, the study found. This indicates no evidence that relationships with pets come at the expense of relationships with other people, or that people relied more on pets when their human social support was poorer.

The scientists, from Miami University and Saint Louis University in Missouri, conducted three experiments to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among what they called 'everyday people'.

They questioned 217 people with an average age of 31 and family income of $77,000, 79 per cent of whom were women. The group answered a survey aimed at determining whether pet owners differed from people without pets in terms of well-being and personality type. Several differences between the groups emerged - in all cases, pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners.

A second experiment involved 56 dog owners with an average age of 42 and family income of $65,000, 91 per cent of whom were women. This group were questioned about whether they benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs better. The researchers here found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.

The last group, made up of 97 undergraduates with an average age of 19, found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection. Subjects were asked to write about a time when they felt excluded. Then they were asked to write about their favourite pet, or to write about their favourite friend, or to draw a map of their campus. The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.

'The present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support,' the researchers wrote. 'Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges...the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets.'

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

5 interesting ways dogs can save your life

What is it that makes a dog so special? Is it the amount of love they show you everyday? The way they keep your spot on the couch warm? Or is it the fact that they are the only reason you actually go on walks for exercise? While these do make a dog special, there are other reasons - health and safety reasons - that your pooch is such a close, special friend.

Throughout history, dogs have been known to do extraordinary things for and with their human counterparts, including saving lives and alerting humans of danger. There are medical alert dogs that rightly, and quickly, become a part of the family and get to know their human companions very well, and then there are dogs that are naturals at sensing changes in the environment and natural disasters. It’s like they’re real life superheroes! So, sit down with your dog and let’s learn about some of the interesting things dogs can sense or detect.

1. Seizures

Research has shown that some dogs are able to warn people living with seizures that they are going to have an attack minutes and even hours before it happens. Various reports show that dogs can predict an epileptic seizure on an average of 45 minutes before it begins, giving them the chance to alert their pet parents. It is still a mystery as to why and how dogs can do this, however, it appears to be a natural canine gift that can be enhanced with training. Studies believe dogs might be picking up on certain smells or even noticing subtle behavioural changes humans cannot detect themselves.

2. Natural Disasters

For centuries, individuals from all around the world have believed that dogs and other animals can sense environmental changes such as impending earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, or other natural disasters. An article from Dog Care Journey says, “From a scientific perspective, the evidence is inconclusive about whether or not a dog can sense and predict earthquakes and other natural disasters, but some people believe that dogs and other animals are good at predicting such dangers and are able to warn us minutes before an earthquake is about to occur.”

Watch for erratic behaviour in dogs - excessive and unusual barking, sudden biting, whining, and pacing back and forth. An example is the mass evacuation in 1975 of the city of Haicheng in China just days before a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit. The evacuation took place due in part to officials having been observant of strange animal behaviour happening around them.

3. Your Energy

Fear, sadness, stress, and nervousness are all very real human emotions, also known as your energy. Did you know that your doggie can sense your emotions? On top of that, most dogs will mimic your physical or mental behaviour whether positive or negative. So if you have a nervous or fearful dog, take an assessment of your own energy first before questioning your fur baby’s state of mind! Have you noticed that when you’re sad and your dog has “concerned” eyes? Your dog almost always somehow knows when you are unhappy and they will likely come over to try snuggling or simply placing their head on your lap.

4. Cancer

You’ve probably heard that dogs have a super-heightened sense of smell. Their sense of smell is so great that they can pick up on the distinctive smell of cancer cells, and some have been trained to detect extremely subtle scents the human body gives off when cancer is present. Studies involving patients with cancer such as lung or breast cancer show that dogs can pin-point the scent of biochemical markers by sniffing people’s breath and alerting researchers that they smell the cancer.

5. Diabetes

A dog’s keen sense of smell can also detect low blood sugar in their pet parents and therefore make fantastic companion service buddies to people with diabetes when properly trained. Dogs can alert a diabetic that their sugar has dropped or will drop by detecting the scent of sweet or acidic fluctuation, hopefully giving enough notice for the diabetic person to reach their insulin.

(Article source: Various)

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