A pet is certainly a great friend. After a difficult day, pet
owners quite literally feel the love.
In fact, for nearly 25 years, research has shown that living
with pets provides certain health benefits. Pets help lower blood pressure and
lessen anxiety. They boost our immunity. They can even help you get dates.
About one in three adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure. More than 90% of adults who survive into their 80s will develop elevated blood pressure -- also called hypertension -- and about 50% of people will have it by age 60.
Although high blood pressure is common, it's not harmless. High blood pressure is a major cause of atherosclerosis, the artery-clogging process that leads to heart attacks and strokes. Blood pressure higher than 140/90 is seen in:
69% of people who have their first...
"The old thinking was that if your family had a pet, the
children were more likely to become allergic to the pet. And if you came from
an allergy-prone family, pets should be avoided," says researcher James E.
Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
However, a growing number of studies have suggested that kids
growing up in a home with "furred animals" -- whether it's a pet cat or
dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals -- will have less risk of
allergies and asthma, he tells WebMD.
In his recent study, Gern analyzed the blood of babies
immediately after birth and one year later. He was looking for evidence of an
allergic reaction, immunity changes, and for reactions to bacteria in the
If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show
evidence of pet allergies -- 19% vs. 33%. They also were less likely to have
eczema, a common allergy skin condition that causes red patches and itching. In
addition, they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals -- a sign of
stronger immune system activation.
"Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who
have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system,"
Dogs are great for making love connections. Forget Internet
matchmaking -- a dog is a natural conversation starter.
This especially helps ease people out of social isolation or
shyness, Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at
Emory University in Atlanta, tells WebMD.
"People ask about breed, they watch the dog's tricks,"
Kaslow says. "Sometimes the conversation stays at the 'dog level,'
sometimes it becomes a real social interchange."
Dogs for the Aged
"Studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have fewer
anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home," says Lynette Hart,
PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of
"Their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a
pet, particularly if it is a cat, which generally requires less care than a
dog," says Hart.
Walking a dog or just caring for a pet -- for elderly people
who are able -- can provide exercise and companionship. One insurance company,
Midland Life Insurance Company of Columbus, Ohio, asks clients over age 75 if
they have a pet as part of their medical screening -- which often helps tip the
scales in their favor.