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Loving a pet has health benefits,

October 29th, 2004, 08:54 AM
Loving a pet has health benefits, study finds News Staff

According to a new study, happy pet owners might be healthier humans.

University of Calgary psychology professor Dr. Gregory Fouts found people with an emotional connection to their animals report lower blood pressure, less stress and less depression than their petless counterparts.

For heart attack survivor Warren Whissel, Fouts' research rings true. Warren's wife Dalia says that when he became ill two-and-a-half years ago, the emotional strain seemed worse than the physical effects.

"Warren was very, very emotional," she told CTV News. "He would cry so much to the point where he would be sobbing -- it just broke my heart to see him that way."

The solution they came up with was to bring a dog, Abby, into their lives.

"Everyone has stress, which I still cope with, but this is my coping mechanism now," Warren says. "When I feel stressed or anxious, off we go for a walk."

In his study of animal-human attunement, Fouts surmised that the phenomenon that bonds a baby to its mother might also be at play in some human-animal relationships.

Losing track of time when playing with a pet, Fouts believes, may be just one of the moments when the relationship is having unseen benefits.

"What we find is, those people who in fact find those special times -- maybe only once or twice a week, or sometimes it's three or four times a day -- they actually are healthier and have more life satisfaction."

Fouts says being attuned, or having that sense of oneness with a pet, could have significant implications for overall public health.

Among the elderly, for example, he says pet ownership appears linked to greater mobility, less arthritis and a reduced reliance on medication.

Overall, he says people who enjoy a good relationship with their pet report higher levels of general wellness.

Based on his preliminary research, Fouts believes further study could produce criteria that would help match individuals with the type of pet that would most benefit their personality.

With a report from CTV's Calgary affiliate, CFCN News