Not feeling well? Maybe this will help
When it comes to advancing medical technology, the family dog isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But that is exactly what is on the mind of Professor Daniel Mills from the UK’s University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences and his colleague Dr. Sophie Hall. In an article that appeared in a recent issue of the Veterinary Record, they discuss the therapeutic effects of companion animals, the influence of pets on childhood development, and how researchers are uncovering the true value of animal companionship. According to the authors:
“Animal companionship is potentially more cost-effective and socially acceptable than technological solutions. Companion animals should not be considered a luxury or unnecessary indulgence, but rather, when cared for appropriately, they should be seen as valuable contributors to human health and wellbeing.”
Along with reducing overt emotional responses such as anxiety, there is evidence to suggest that animal companionship can be highly influential in reducing a sense of isolation. The companionship of an animal has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness in elderly care home residents. And a further study with patients in palliative care showed that the presence of a dog, cat or rabbit improved the mood of patients. Similar mood changes have also been observed in children with autism and Alzheimer’s patients.
The team is now engaged in a long-term follow-up of their earlier controlled study, in conjunction with the Parents Autism Workshops and Support Network, examining the effects of pet dog ownership on UK families with an autistic child. Results from the initial study are due to be reported soon in the scientific press. Uniquely, this has examined the effects on the child, primary care giver and wider family, since it is hypothesized that all of these might benefit from the companionship provided by a dog.
The positive effects of animals in reducing negative emotions and increasing positive emotions may improve not only quality of life but can also help with the development of effective interventions. Previous research in the field of human health and medical psychology has provided evidence to suggest that dog and cat owners have better psychological and physical health than non-owners. Dog owners are also reported to recover more quickly after serious mental and physical illness, and even make fewer visits to their doctor. All of these effects might have a significant impact on healthcare costs at a time when there is a need to reduce them.
The authors comment: “We should be curious about all the ways companion animals can potentially help us and embrace the opportunities provided by a greater appreciation of the impact of companion animals on our lives. It is perhaps ironic that in a world that seems to be increasingly encouraging the development of technologies to make our lives easier, an obvious answer to many of our problems may be literally staring us in the face (or sitting on our lap).”