Animals interact with humans in multiple ways, including as therapy and service animals, commercially as livestock, as wildlife, and in zoos. But the most common interaction is as companion animals in our homes, with an estimated 180 million cats and dogs living in US households. While pet ownership has been reported to have many health benefits, the findings are inconsistent. Cardiovascular risk factors such as lipids, glucose, obesity, and heart rate variability have improved, worsened, or remained the same in the limited number of studies considering companion animals. Physical activity increases have more consistently been linked with dog ownership, although whether this reflects antecedent motivation or direct benefit from the dog is unclear. Allergies and asthma also are variably linked to pet ownership and are confounded by family history of atopy and timing of exposure to pet dander. The benefits of companion animals are most likely to be through reduction in depression, anxiety, and social isolation, but these studies have been largely cross-sectional and may depend on degree of bonding of the owner with the animal. Positive relationships show measurably higher oxytocin with lower cortisol and alpha-amylase levels. Finally, pet ownership is also a marker of better socioeconomic status and family stability, and if companion animals are to provide cardiovascular risk benefit, the route should perhaps be through improved education and opportunity for ownership.
- Human-animal interaction
- Physical activity