Friday, November 15, 2013

Human Relationships with Other Animals

Having a visit with my parents' dog, Casey

In recent years, quite a few studies have looked at human relationships with other animals, ranging from animals as companions to their effects on blood pressure, stress, and minor health problems. 

For example, a 2009 study found that compared to a control group, patients with acute depression who spent just thirty minutes with a dog experienced a significant reduction in levels of anxiety.

Dog Owners More Likely to Be Alive One Year after a Heart Attack

A 1995 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology examined the effects of pet ownership and social support on patients’ one-year survival rates after a heart attack. The researchers discovered that heart-attack survivors who were also dog-owners were much less likely to die within one year than those without a dog. Interestingly, being a cat owner did not offer the same protection.

The study also demonstrated that patients who had more social support were more likely to be alive after one year. The researchers suggest that both dogs and social support provide buffers against stress.

Caring for Other Animals

Some studies have also found that pets reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

In my research and conversations with veterans, I’ve learned numerous stories about how a veteran’s a dog has supported him or her through the darkest hours. Animals keep post-traumatic stress survivors focused on the present moment, and provide a reason to get up in the morning—a dog, for example, needs to be fed and taken for a walk.

The act of caring for other animals can help to bring us out of ourselves and become more open to the world around us.

Erika Friedmann and Sue A. Thomas, “Pet Ownership, Social Support, and One-year Survival after Acute Myocardial Infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST),” The American Journal of Cardiology 76 (1995): 1213-1217.

Andreas O. M. Hoffmann, Ah Hyung Lee, Florian Wertenauer, Roland Ricken, Joanna J. Jansen, Juergen Gallinat, and Undine E. Lang, “Dog-assisted Intervention Significantly Reduces Anxiety in Hospitalized Patients with Major Depression,” European Journal of Integrative Medicine 1 (2009): 145-148.


  1. Sigh... I keep thinking about ways to connect my children with nature and I know getting a pet would be an obvious one... but we love to get out camping and having a pet would complicate that so much... someday...

    1. Hi Tara, I'm with you. I am completely convinced by the research, but we also do not have a pet. Perhaps one day, but at the moment, we're not in a place to care for a pet, and I think that's important to know, too. Plus there are so many other ways to connect kids to nature!

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