Questions? Call today.
Health Insurance News

How Your Furry Friend Can Calm Your Mind

How Your Furry Friend Can Calm Your Mind

Americans can't seem to get enough of pets or Prozac. In 2007, close to 22 million prescriptions were written for Prozac in the U.S., and almost 233 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants. In fact, antidepressants remain the most commonly dispensed drug in the country. Not to be outdone, pet ownership has also become wildly popular, with 63% of U.S. households owning a pet. As of 2007, Americans owned about 73 million dogs and 90 million cats. So what do antidepressants and pets have in common? According to a growing body of research, they can both improve mental health. We'll explore the mental health benefits of pets in more detail.

Furry Mood Boosters

Animals appear to have a mood-bolstering effect on their owners. Studies have shown that ownership can help stave off depression, particularly in the elderly. The powerful mood-elevating effects even apply to those with chronic disease, a demographic particularly susceptible to depression. A 1999 UCLA study demonstrated that men with AIDS were less likely to have depression if they owned a pet. In the study, men with AIDS who did not own pets were three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than men without AIDS. Comparatively, men with AIDS who did own pets were only 50% more likely than men without AIDS to report symptoms of depression. Further, dog owners are more likely to get regular exercise than non-pet-owners, with 40% citing their pooch as a major motivation to get regular physical activity. Of course, people who exercise consistently are also less likely to report symptoms of depression.

Stress Reduction

Owning a pet has also been proven to reduce stress, a common source of many mental and physical health problems, including high blood pressure. One study found that groups of New York stockbrokers with high blood pressure who got cats or dogs had lower heart rates and blood pressure than those who didn't get pets. Other studies have shown that the simple act of petting a cat or a dog also reduces blood pressure. Perhaps the most interesting study was published in a 2002 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. This study revealed that, when performing a stressful task, people experienced less stress when their pets were present than when a supportive friend or even a spouse or partner was with them.

Strengthening Social Supports

Research indicates that poor social supports are a contributing factor to both depression and suicide, and ownership can help strengthen those social ties. Dog owners especially tend to meet and speak to more people than non-pet-owners because they are frequently out and about walking their pets. Similarly, pets seem to also have the ability to stave off loneliness. In one study, nursing home residents who were visited by dogs reported less loneliness than when they were visited by humans.

Repay the Kindness

Quite obviously, pets offer their human companions untold physical and mental health benefits. Think about repaying the kindness by not eating animals. You wouldn't have your cat or dog for dinner, so why would you eat any other animal? Among other benefits, vegetarianism can lower your health insurance costs, so it's at least worth considering.

Next Step

About Health Insurance Health Policy Options Tips and Advice Industry News
Other Products