Our animals are good for us
The Euro 2016 championship produced moments of drama, tension, tears and elation for people across the continent. It can feel like the entire range of emotional ups and downs we experience across our lives are squeezed into just a few short weeks of football.

Thankfully, our beloved cat Caesar was there to share each moment, from Germany’s solid attacking midfield, Italy’s flair and England’s exit against underdogs Iceland. When things got too passionate, she was a calming presence whose cuddles helped lower the blood pressure of her excitable human counterparts.

Those of us who live with pets know they offer companionship and stability when we need it most, but perhaps we don’t always appreciate the physical effects of these special relationships.
It’s something I’ve seen since I started my career as a vet at a small animal practice in Germany, when I met elderly clients whose dogs gave them opportunities to meet other people and improve their own health during their daily walks in the fresh air.

Today, we have even greater insight into the way these pets help balance the lives of their owners; one study found that elderly people with a dog or cat were better able to perform some essential ‘activities of daily living’ such as climbing stairs, taking medication, preparing meals and dressing themselves.¹

Another study of 9,000 people in Germany found that people with pets reported fewer visits to the doctor than those without.²  
And it isn’t just the elderly who benefit from these important relationships; there is some evidence that growing up with a pet decreases the chance of a child experiencing conditions such as eczema or asthma³, and of the therapeutic benefits of pets for children with autism.

Again, when I was working as a vet, I saw what an important role pets can play in a child’s development. And in my own childhood – when I grew up around animals – pets could be the ‘one friend’ with whom I would share lots of important moments.

Sadly, these are often the first friends we lose, but this helps us learn to handle losses and grief in life, and teaches us respect for the animals around us. We often see this same respect and care in the farmers who have an important bond with their animals. My colleague Jan Arie Koorevaar has written wonderfully about this here.

I think we’ve known for a long time that pets support our emotional wellbeing, but we’re only just beginning to understand the huge benefits they have for our physical health.

1. Raina P, Waltner-Toews D, Bonnett B, Woodward C, Abernathy T (1999). Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study. J Am Geriatr Soc. Mar;47(3):323-9.
2. Headey B & Grabka MM (2007). Pets and human health in Germany and Australia: National longitudinal results. Social Indicators Research. 80: 297-311.
3. Gern, JE (2004). Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Mar; 2 (113): 307-314.

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