Could owning a pet make you live longer?

September 18th, 2012

You already know that being greeted by your pet at the end of a hard day brings a smile to your face. But owning a pet has other long-term health benefits, too.

Adnan Qureshi, Professor of Neurology at the University of Minnesota, has identified a strong link between cat ownership and a lowered risk of heart attack – even after adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol.

‘The most logical explanation can be that cat ownership relieves stress and anxiety and subsequently reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases,’ he says.

Although some parents avoid cats and dogs to protect their children from allergic reactions, some experts believe exposure to pet allergens can boost our immune systems. While working at the University of Warwick’s School of Psychology, health psychologist Dr June McNicholas compared the levels of immunoglobulin A antibodies in two sets of primary school-age children.

Her team found that pet-owning children had stronger immune systems and took fewer days off sick from school. She says, ‘We are living in homes that are too sanitised. People who keep pets tend to be a little less fussy. It is good to have a little exposure to allergens and germs.’

In fact, there is evidence that exposure to allergens on household pets can sometimes have a positive effect. Researchers have found a correlation between regular exposure to cats and dogs and a reduced incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

A study of people in the San Francisco area, by the University of California and Stanford University, found that those who had regular contact with pets were a third less likely to suffer from the disease.

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