Pets don't care what we wear or if our hair is combed.
The study was just one of a series that demonstrated the positive health benefits of pet ownership. Dr. Karen Allen has led a team of researchers from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo in a series of pet-related studies that began more than a decade ago. Their results have repeatedly demonstrated that people show a reduced stress response (i.e., less of a rise in blood pressure or heart rate) if their pet happens to be nearby. Pets comfort us when we face life’s many challenges.
The SUNY-Buffalo research team has also studied the effects of owning a pet on a group of hypertensive people who were caring for their brain-injured spouses. Half of the caregivers adopted a dog for six months. At the end of those six months, the new pet owners were reacting to stress better than they had before, and better than the caregivers who did not have a pet. The other half of the caregivers then adopted a dog. After another six months, all of the caregivers were reacting better to stress.
Research has found that health benefits are not limited to dogs or (by extension) cats. A study found that watching brightly colored fish swim back and forth in an aquarium helped calm people prone to disruptive behavior, such as children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Nursing homes in both the United States and Europe have documented the helpful effects of bringing in pets to visit the residents, and many people have benefited from therapeutic programs that allow them to interact with horses, dolphins, and other animals.
Exactly why pets can have a positive physiological effect is not clear, but experts have a number of theories. Research in general has shown that people tend to be healthier when they have a companion. In addition, studies have shown that people enjoyed more social interaction if they were accompanied by a dog. It may also be that people have an easier time reaching out to a person’s pet than a person! Pets bridge all communication gaps.