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Healthy Pets

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Pets Boost Owners' Emotional, Physical Health

Study Highlights Health Benefits of Owning Dogs and Other Pets
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 13, 2011 -- Pets improve the emotional and physical well-being of their owners in their daily lives, a new study shows.

Researchers say ordinary people -- whom they call "everyday people" -- reap many significant rewards from having relationships with faithful pets.

The series of three studies conducted by researchers at Miami University in Ohio and Saint Louis University concluded that:

  • Pet owners have greater self-esteem and are less lonely than non-pet owners.
  • Pet owners are more physically fit.
  • Pet owners are more conscientious and more outgoing.
  • Pet owners seem to be less fearful of the hurdles of ordinary life.

Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

"The present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support," the researchers say. "Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges ... the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets."

"We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions," study researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio, says in a news release.

The researchers' work also indicated that pet owners are just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals. This suggests that relationships with pets did not get in the way or affect pet-owners' relationships with other people.

Pet Ownership on the Rise

The studies included 370 participants. In one study, 217 people answered surveys designed to show whether pet owners in the group differed from people who didn't have pets in areas like personality type, attachment style, and well-being.

A second study involved 56 dog owners and was designed to determine whether pet owners benefited more when their animals were perceived to meet their social needs.

The last of three studies involved 96 undergraduate pet owners who were asked to write about a time they felt socially rejected. It found that writing about pets was as effective as writing about people in helping to handle feelings of rejection.

Pet ownership has been rising for years. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association says about two-thirds of the 71.1 million American households have at least one pet, up from 56% in 1988.

The study is published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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