The Doctor’s Prescription: Add a Pet to Your Life

A study found that people increased their physical activity after adding a new dog to their home.

If you’re like many adults, you probably dread your yearly visit to the doctor.  Wouldn’t you be surprised if this year your doctor asks, “Have you thought about getting a pet to help you get healthier?”

In a fascinating study lasting 10 months, Dr. Serpell at the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine in Cambridge looked at what happened to 71 adults without a pet during the previous year when they added a new pet dog or cat to their home. He compared new pet owners to a similar group of 26 people who stayed without pets. The people recorded information about a variety of health problems at the beginning of the study and after 6 months and 10 months. While there were no health changes during the study among those people who didn’t have a pet, getting a pet resulted in a significant improvement in health for both dog and cat owners. For example, the number of health problems (like headaches and other pain problems, poor sleep, digestive problems, colds, nervousness, dizziness, and fatigue) dropped by half after just one month of adding a pet cat or dog to the home. Significant health improvements were also seen after 6 months and at the end of the study.  Dog owners also experienced an increase in physical activity. On average, both future dog owners and non-pet owners walked an average of twice per week at the start of the study. Walking decreased slightly over six months in the non-pet owners. Dog owners increased their exercise to nine walks per week after the first month and fourteen walks per week after six months.

Other medical research has confirmed that pets are good for our health. For example, living with a dog results in:

  • Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduced blood triglyceride level
  • Decreased weight
  • Reduced stress response

Pets are more than just wonderful companions. They have an added bonus of being good for our health. So the next time your doctor says you need to get healthier, perhaps you should consider sharing your home with health-promoting pet.

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  3. How does one find a doctor that will prescribe a pet? My regular Multicare doctor is a grump will not. I understand the benefits of a pet and keep at least one by my side at all times. I am a truck driver and petting my pug’s head really helps reduce stress and anxiety for me and even for other drivers that see her riding along. There is a rail yard where I frequently load that does not allow pets on the premises even if secured in the truck. Security there tells me that an exception can be made if I have a prescription for the pet. Until then, I am forced to tie-up the poor dog to a chain link fence outside until the truck is loaded. Can you help me find a doctor in the Seattle/Tacoma area that will prescribe a dog?

  4. I’m not surprised at all. Any person who’s ever owned a pet could attest to this.

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