A study, published: June 23, 2017, calls in to question whether pets improve our health. From my perspective there is no doubt that the general consensus is that pets improve the health of their human owners (caretakers/guardians). But is this ‘fact’ correct?
Time and time again we see reference to the benefits. However, the truth is that studies, when taken as a whole, are ambiguous on the subject. That said, we, the public should always take studies with a pinch of salt. Studies although meant to be highly scientific are not always as scientific as they should be. There is quite a lot of competition in the world of research and published studies. There is a desire to make the published work more “sexy”. This can undermine its integrity.
A recent study, however, is interesting in that it reviews the ongoing California Health Interview Survey begun in 2001 with respect to looking at the question as to whether pets improve the health of their owners.
In layman’s terms, the outcome of the study is that people with better health, because of reasons other than the fact that they have a cat or dog, are more likely to own a cat or dog. So, for example, people who are wealthier are generally healthier and these people are more likely to own a cat or dog. This obviously distorts the outcome and puts a bias on results. Other potentially distorting factors are:
- Married people are more likely to have pets. A married person has a 34% higher chance of owning a dog than an unmarried person. As for cats the percentage is 9%.
- Women, in general, are more likely to keep pets. The odds that a woman owns a dog is 8% percent higher than the odds that a man will own a dog. It is 16% higher for owning a cat.
- Perhaps the biggest difference comes with racial and ethnic differences. White people are about three times more likely to own a dog and five times more likely to own a cat compared to non-white people.
- Black people are half as likely to own a dog and less than a third likely to own a cat than a non-black person. As for Hispanic and Asian people the results are similar to those of black people amongst the study participants.
- Homeowners are more likely to keep a pet. They are three times (300%) more likely to own a dog and 60% more likely to own a cat.
- Also, wealthy people are significantly more likely to own dogs and cats than poorer people.
We can see, therefore, that the sort of person involved in a large study – and the California Health Interview Survey concerns 42,000 people – has an impact upon the outcome as to whether pet ownership improves the health of pet owners.
The study questioned whether there was any positive connection between pets and the health of their owners.
When the researchers took into account factors such as marital status, income and race, they decided that the health of cat and dog owners was no different to people who did not own a cat or dog.
Studies are studies by which I mean I’m not sure we can take them as hard evidence of fact but I would have thought that from a scientific point of view whether cats and dogs improve our health is work in progress. It is of course a different matter when we ask people and look at things in a layperson’s way. When we do that we see health benefits.
Of course you have to set against any health benefits the potential health detriments of owning a pet. And there are some, we have to admit it. Some diseases are zoonotic such as toxoplasmosis, as one well cited example. And then there’s asthma and being allergic to cats.
Despite the conclusions of this study my personal feelings are that I need to look after a cat for my emotional health. Is not that I want to, it is that I need to.