In the last few years, there’s been a proliferation of warm, fuzzy studies telling us about the health benefits of cats and dogs, but an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Fido’s No Doctor. Neither is Whiskers.,” gave a reality check about just how much we should expect from our pets. Hal Herzog, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, explained that for all the research touting the health benefits of pets, there’s nearly as much that indicates they don’t. The problem, he says, is that researchers haven’t delved into how we actually interact with pets.
Herzog admits that a lot of research is convincing in making the expensive cost of owning a pet — $10,000 per cat or dog, on average — is worth it for the increase in psychological and physical well-being: According to some studies, pet owners have lower cholesterol, sleep better, exercise more, and are more likely to survive heart attacks; petting fido and fluffy lowers blood pressure and makes us less likely to be depressed. But he also points out the bounty of studies that reach an opposite conclusion: The Pew Research Center found that pet owners are no happier than anyone else; Australian scientists found that pet owners’ mortality rates were no different than anyone else’s; worst of all, a report out of Finland showed that pet owners were more likely to suffer sciatia, kidney disease, arthritis, migraines, panic attacks, high blood pressure and depression.
While a lot of those studies seem to draw on statistics and correlations between pet ownership and indicators of health, new studies, including a large-scale investigation by the National Institutes of Health, aim to learn more about the behaviors of pet owners and the interactions between humans and animals, hopefully resolving some of the conflict and confusion. In the meantime, Herzog recommends that, “until the research is complete, pet lovers should probably keep taking their Lipitor and Prozac.”
So is your furry friend good for your health, or just a drain on your pocketbook? Tell us whether you think you’re a healthier, happier person thanks to your pet, in the comments section, below: