Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

Research shows animals are good for your health

The healing power of pets has been extensively studied and written about both in rigorous academic research and in anecdotal reports. It’s exciting when research compliments, validates and even expands what we sense from our own personal experiences. Pet owners know their animals are a special part of their lives. Here’s a small selection of specific — and often surprising— research findings on the healing power of pets:

Studies from the University of California, Davis indicate that pet owners of all ages went to the doctor less often and felt more secure about themselves than people without pets.

Another study showed that the calming influence of patting a snuggly pet can be more effective at controlling high blood pressure than certain medications.

Dogs and cats are even being trained to use their superior sense of smell to sniff out cancer and to warn people with epilepsy of an impending seizure so the person can take preventive action.

Australian researchers showed that pet owners are less likely to develop heart disease than people without pets.

There is documented evidence that children who have pets demonstrate more compassion, less aggression and less stress than kids without pets in their homes.

Nursing homes in New York, Missouri and Texas reported that when plants, animals or birds were introduced into their facilities death rates dropped by 40 percent, the need for medication among the residents decreased by half, and residents experienced less depression and loneliness.

Another study at Brooklyn College found that a pet owner who suffers a heart attack lives longer when they return home than those who experience a heart attack and do not have pets.

A study done in Miami, Fla., found that when animals are present in inner-city classrooms, there were significant improvements in attendance, test scores and the children’s ability to focus.

In case you had assumed that only cats, dogs and birds enhance well-being, one study involved giving residents in a nursing home one goldfish to care for and to have as their own. The same drastic reduction in depression, loneliness and the need for medication occurred with the presence of a single goldfish.

The moral of the story is not new, but it is important to practice in daily life. The opportunity to give and to receive love from all living things, large and small, adds immeasurable good to our well-being and our love contributes to their ability to thrive, as well. PJH