The many touted benefits of pet ownership are all true. It’s no longer considered news that pets reduce stress, help blood pressure, and reduce incidents of depression. Today I want to focus on two age groups: the youngest and the oldest. I address this issue in other articles, but it is a complex subject because of the many considerations that can come into play in that situation. Pet ownership is not a blanket solution to every problem, but for those who want a pet, they have many benefits.
Pets have a special place in the lives of children. Think back on your memories of your childhood pet, if you had one. Need I say more? These are strong, indelible connections. Even children who are not old enough for verbal communication can form bonds with animals. A good dog is priceless in the life of a child. They can learn responsibility, empathy, and self-esteem. Studies show that children with pets report higher levels of happiness and confidence.
Children with conditions ranging from anger and behavioral problems to communicative barriers like autism have all benefitted from interactions with animals. Dr. Rise Van Fleet is a psychologist who uses dogs in her therapy work with children, called “pet play therapy”. Dr. Van Fleet reports that interactions with animals help children learn new concepts and recognize mistakes in their own behavior. They aid in communication and in building self-esteem. Dogs are used in a wide variety of therapy work.
In elderly people, pets show the same and other benefits. A good dog can go a long way toward easing loneliness. Aside from that, some studies seem to support findings that elderly people with pets demonstrate faster healing times after myocardial problems, lowered blood pressure, and other physical health benefits. Those studies are not without controversy, because others show no difference in health outcomes whether animals are associated or not. Much stronger evidence, however supports the hypothesis that animal contact can lower depression rates. Older age groups have high incidents of depression, so pets could be a very valuable part of therapy.
Many, if not all, of these studies are correlational studies http://www.play–therapy.com/playfulpooch/pets_study.html. I want to point out that correlation does not establish causation. In other words, there is little solid evidence that getting a pet will help recovery after a heart attack. There may be a third factor at work. But for “pet people”, having a pet really does add to the quality of life.