Beneficial Effects of Pets and Animal-Human Interaction

We wrote in January about a project we are working on to make it easier for people to access housing if they have an animal. We are proposing that when someone is unable to access housing because they have an animal and cannot reach agreement with a landlord they should have the option, as a last resort, to have a health professional indicate they need their animal for their health and emotional well-being.

Earlier this week, MLA Linda Reid spoke about this work in the Legislature:

March 5, 2012
L. Reid:

Today I’m dedicating my remarks to Jane Dyson, the executive director of the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities. Comfort, solace, companionship, bonding — all are characteristics of a settled life. Dr. Coren of UBC talks about one of the newest trends in medical research, which focuses on the relationship between people and their pets and the effect this has on their physical and mental well-being.

The scientific data is unequivocal in showing that dogs can be a significant factor in dealing with stress responses for all people and can have a major beneficial effect on special groups, such as persons with physical and mental disabilities, seniors and others who may be socially isolated.

The medical recognition of the significance of the human-animal bond and its influence on human psychological health has become a subject of serious research. Human findings include lower blood pressure, relaxed heart rate, regular breathing and less muscle tension — all signs of reduced stress. Individuals with disabilities are particularly susceptible to stress, and hence, all of the secondary problems associated. Up to 25 percent of people who seek the services of a general practitioner do so for depressive and anxiety disorders.

Depression is considered to be much more disabling, socially and physically, than many chronic conditions. Although depression can be caused by many factors, one of the most common is loneliness. People who lack human contact often benefit from pet ownership and the emotional bond that pets provide.

Recently researchers looked at a group of people 60 and older living alone or only with a pet. Non–pet owners were four times more likely to be diagnosed as clinically depressed than pet owners of the same age. The evidence also showed that pet owners required fewer medical services and were more satisfied with their lives.

In the year 2010 Dr. Aubrey Fine edited a stunning collection of chapters on animal-assisted therapy, theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice, in which the authors explore the animal-human bond — from the use of animals with individuals with autism spectrum disorder to human-animal interactions in successful aging.

Animals have become an important part of the lives of many people of all ages, and there are now numerous studies to support the beneficial effects, both physiological and psychosocial.