A home with a pet is not just happier, it’s also healthier. The psychological and health benefits of living with animals have been studied for many years but studies now prove that not only are animals great for our homes and personal lives, we have a similar effect on animals as well. So, the benefits of a human-animal relationship are mutual.
Meg Daley Olmert, the author of “Made for each other: The biology of human-animal bond”, argues that this is a relationship with very deep roots — human beings and animals have shared a mutually beneficial relationship for millennia.
Just looking at animals can trigger the production of oxytocin by ‘mere-exposure effect’, according to Olmert. Oxytocin production creates a very real, cognitive effect in a human mind where the ‘other’ is seen as ‘kin’, whether of the same species or not. So, our minds register animals as part of family.
In a TedX talk Olmert gave in the US in 2012, she spoke about how moving away from nomadic and then agricultural life had reduced human-animal interaction over the years. However, people still chose to keep pets like dogs, and for good reason.
“We got rid of the sheep and kept the shepherd and thank goodness we did that. We’re facing, through oxytocin deprivation, a national mental health crisis now, of depression and suicide and cardiac arrest, because we lost the cardiovascular and mental protection of oxytocin,” she said in the talk.
Countless studies have concluded the therapeutic effect animals have on the human mind. Pets help normalise brain chemistry. Cat owners enjoy a 30 per cent reduction in heart attack risk, according to a 10-year study conducted at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis, US. Watching fish swim can significantly reduce levels of stress and anxiety, and aquarium therapy has been proven to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease live a healthier life.
Just petting an animal can boost your immunity. And if someone brings forward the ‘pets cause allergies’ argument, tell them this: infants who live in a home with a dog are less likely to show evidence of pet allergies, less likely to have eczema, and have a stronger immune system activation, according to a study conducted by Dr James E. Gern, a paediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US. His findings were published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2004.
Scientists and doctors are now working to prove how animal-assisted therapy can become an accepted form of medical intervention - one that can be prescribed like medicine and reimbursed by insurance.