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Pets: Just What The Doctor Ordered

Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM

Posted March 11, 2013 in A Vet's Life

Dr. Ruth MacPete discusses the positive health impacts pets can have on our lives. For more from Dr. MacPete, find her on Facebook or at!

As pet lovers, we all know that our furry four legged friends make us feel better with their unconditional love, friendship and companionship. Now there is mounting scientific evidence that they are also good for our health. It turns out that pets are good for our physical, emotional, and social well-being.

There is a growing body of evidence that pets are good for our health. Studies have reported that pets can lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, stress, and even the risk of having a heart attack. One study from State University of New York, Buffalo evaluated the effects of pets on blood pressure. Dr. Karen Allen studied people who have high blood pressure and one of the most stressful jobs: stockbrokers. Everyone in the trial was treated with medications to lower their blood pressure but half were randomized to also get either a dog or cat. Six months later, they were re-evaluated and the group with a pet had a lower baseline blood pressure and when confronted with a stressful situation, their blood pressure rose 50% less than the group without a pet.

Another interesting study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute reported that having a cat could lower your risk of a heart attack. They looked at nearly 4500 people between the ages of 30 and 75 over a 20 year period. They found that people who never owned a cat had a 40% greater risk of dying from a heart attack and not having a cat was also associated with a 30% greater risk of dying from any sort of cardiovascular disease. Exactly how cat ownership lowers cardiovascular risk is unknown, but it may be due to their beneficial effect on various cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. 
Besides being good for our physical well-being, pets are good for our emotional health. Recent studies report that pets can lower anxiety and help with depression. One study found that playing with a dog raises the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that regulate mood and have a calming effect. Another study reported that AIDS patients with pets were less likely to suffer from depression than patients without pets. Similarly, pets lowered anxiety, decreased frustration,

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