Ask a Doc: Your Pet May Keep You Healthy

March 09, 2016

Your Pet May Keep You Healthy

  • 65% of all US households have pets
  • Cats rarely 'meow' at other cats
  • Pets may decrease your risk of stroke and heart attacks

Dear Doc: I am trying to convince my wife to let me adopt a dog I found at a local shelter. I have heard pet ownership can be good for your health. Can you help me convince my wife?

Dear Reader: You are a wise man seeking permission from your wife prior to adopting a pet. This for sure will help protect your health!

The benefits of animal companionship have been known for centuries among animal lovers. A human from 10,000 BC in northern Israel was found buried cuddling a puppy suggesting that man has long loved their pets. The United States is one of the most pet friendly countries in the world. In the US there are 79.7 million households with pets, that is, 65 percent of all US households that have at least one pet. Of those households 37 percent own dogs, 30 percent own cats, 12 percent own fish, 3 percent own birds, and then there are those that own rabbits, reptiles and a combination of pets. Though there are more households with dogs, there are actually more pet cats in the US. There are 86 million cats versus the 78 million dogs – this is because many cat lovers choose to share their home with more than one feline! Compare that to China that has only 11 million pet cats and 27 million pet dogs but has five times as many humans as the US. In Canada only 35 percent of households have pets.

Interesting facts about cats and dogs:

A dog's nose has four times as many scent cells than a cat's and 14 times more than humans, allowing dogs to be trained to track down the scent of drugs or criminals. One million dogs per year are estimated to be beneficiaries in their owner's wills. Cats will almost never "meow" at another cat, but rather reserve this sound for their human friends. Cats can jump 7 times their height.

Eight million cats and dogs enter the some 3,500 animal shelters in the US each year down from 13 million in 1973. Three million of those animals are euthanized although 80 percent of those were healthy or had treatable ailments and could have been adopted.

Cat humor:

  • What is a cat’s way of keeping law & order? Claw Enforcement.
  • Did you hear about the cat that swallowed a ball of wool? She had mittens.
  • What do you call the cat that was caught by the police? The purrrr-petrator.
  • Why is the cat so grouchy? Because he’s in a bad mewd.

I applaud your thought of adopting a shelter animal, but will your dog improve your health? There is in fact, hard science that suggests pets improve their owner's health. Researchers at Oregon State University concluded that dog owners have significantly lower blood pressure, than non-dog owners. The American Heart Association website states that owning pets is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. It is thought that pet ownership reduces stress, anxiety and loneliness. Other studies have even shown that pet owners have lower cholesterol then non-pet owners! In fact, one study found that if you have a cat you were 30 to 40 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular event like a stroke.

Additional benefits from pet ownership include:

  • Less difficulty sleeping
  • More exercise
  • Pets help safeguard against depression or loneliness
  • Pets help improve social skills
  • For children, owing a pet improves their self esteem
  • Older pet owners have less visits to the doctor
  • Pets help to ease loss
  • Children from pet households actually have less allergies and stronger immune systems

So, with your wife's permission, go ahead and adopt that shelter dog! Not only will your pet become a part of the family, it may also improve you and your family's health! Stay healthy and remember the quote by Abraham Lincoln, "No matter how much cats fight, there always seems to be plenty of kittens."

Nagpaul_arunDr. Nagpaul is a medical doctor and is board-certified in Internal Medicine. He currently is the Medical Director at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, DeMay Living Center and Wayne County Public Health. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider. To send questions to our medical providers, please email Dr. Nagpaul at and put “Ask a Doc” in the subject line.