To pet or not to pet: that is the question?

Pet is a term of endearment. It suggests that the bond humans have with their companion animals is loving and supportive. Recently, pets have become more than just part of the family. Now having a pet has become medicalised. Zooeyia is the technical name for human health benefits of companion animals.

Zooeyia has been linked to a wide variety of improved health outcomes from lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol, enhancing physical activity, decreasing obesity to reducing depression and anxiety.

Evidence supporting the health benefits of pets is inconclusive.

It is not just in the area of improving the health of individuals, pets have super powers in the community too. They have been implicated in widespread societal change as builders of social capital, as agents of harm reduction and as motivators for healthy change in communities. Companies, such as Google and Amazon, allow employees, even those who do not have physical or emotional needs for them, to bring their pet dogs to work.

Most of the evidence supporting the health benefits of pets is inconclusive, consisting mainly of small scale studies which have not be replicated. In the Western world the number of pet households are increasing, making it difficult to understand why there is a lack of interest in further research. In the US alone, the majority of households own one or more pets. With this high frequency of our interactions with pets, the totality of evidence supporting their benefits is also puzzling.

Conversely, the risks that pets present to their owners are well documented. Pets are potential sources of worm infestations, diarrhoea, and even rabies. They can even affect distant communities. For example, an outbreak of a bacteria disease called tularemia in prairie dogs that were kept in a commercial facility in Texas led to tularemia in people in the Czech Republic.

Then there are those in the community who have no affinity for pets. Fifteen percent of the population experiences allergies to dogs and cats and 11% of Americans surveyed were afraid of dogs. Practitioners of some religions do not view animals as house pets.

Effective health care advice is not available to people considering acquiring a pet especially an infant pet. Behavioural and physical changes in pets as they mature can be particularly dangerous. Falls associated with younger dogs and cats resulted in an estimated 86,000 injuries in the United States. Clinicians are reluctant to talk about the pros and cons of pets with their patients because of the lack of solid evidence. Also, patients do not consider veterinarians to be a source of information on human health.

A collaborative effort is required between doctors, vetinarians and protectors of public health to help people who are considering owning animals as pets to make informed decisions both prior to acquisition, and during the life of their pets.

One thought on “To pet or not to pet: that is the question?

  1. Do you think the enhanced relationship links with pets have arisen from our increasing disconnectedness to people? The elderly have pets substituting for the extended family they would have lived with in generations past, singles embrace their ‘fur-babies’ because they can’t find a life-partner? We have also elevated pets beyond their legal status as chattels and endowed them with persona status.


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