We love our pets. We spoil them. We flaunt them with pride and manage their Instagram feeds with more care than our own.
But is there more symbiosis going on in this relationship than we previously thought
And is it possible that there’s a reciprocal health benefit to the liver if you own a pet?
Science seems to think so, with multiple studies pointing towards the emotional and health benefits of owning a pet whether it be a cat, dog, or both.
From lowering your blood pressure to affecting your mood and psychology, owning a pet is a good idea no matter how old or healthy you are.
Mind, Body, and Pet
If you’re listening to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, owning a pet is one of the best things you can do for your health and the health of your family.
The health benefits of pet ownership according to the CDC are:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased cholesterol levels
- Decreased triglyceride levels
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
- Increased opportunities for socialization
Companionship, Depression and Pets
While the primary purpose of any good pet is love and companionship, keeping our furry friends around clearly has a positive net impact on our psyche and body. If you’ve ever suffered from depression you know how debilitating it can be with symptoms that often manifest physically.
From a scientific standpoint, psychological distress has been correlated with an increase in liver deaths. A gigantic study conducted in 2015 by the University of Edinburgh was published in Gastroenterology and found a strong correlation between psychological distress and liver disease mortality. The study took place over the course of 10 years and had a vast participant pool of 166,631 individuals.
Simply put, people who suffered more psychological stress were more likely to develop liver diseases resulting in death.
Based on the study’s findings – liver health and mental health go hand in hand.
Blood Hounds and Blood Pressure
Another study published in the Journal of Scientific Reports found that “dogs may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk in their owners by providing social support and motivation for physical activity.” Using a fairly sprawling participant pool of over 34,000 The Swedish Twin Registry conducted study was the “largest investigation of associations of dog ownership with human health reported to date.”
So, if you are already diagnosed with a liver disorder or suffer from hypertension, owning a pet could be a great way to introduce mild exercise into your daily routine.
While all dog breeds can be beneficial to your health and that of your family, certain breeds are notoriously more active. “Hunting breeds such as retrievers, terriers, and scent hounds saw the most protection from death and cardiovascular disease,” according to The Swedish Twin Registry study.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Liver
Now that we know there’s a direct connection between psychological distress and liver illness, let’s examine the effects of owning a pet on our mental well being.
Owning a pet is positive for healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development in children, but the benefits don’t stop if you’re an adult.
Pets can be a great relief for chronic pain and anxiety. In a Loyola University study, researchers found therapeutic pets reduce the need for pain medication in patients recovering from surgery.
On a visceral level, the phenomena of giving and having “puppy dog eyes” has a rather tangible effect on our brain chemistry and that of our pets. A study out of Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan found that a dramatic boost of oxytocin is released in our brains when we spend time looking at and interacting with our pets.
Oxytocin is a hormone secreted in the posterior lobe at the base of the brain and is known as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone for its associating with love and social bonding.
For older people in retirement, pet ownership can also offer:
- a sense of purpose
- and responsibility that positively impacts mental health.
And having a stronger sense of self and self-esteem leads to making better health decisions.
If you’re teetering on the fence of whether or not to become a pet owner, the pros and cons list may seem a bit weighted on the pro side. Keep in mind, however, owning and being responsible for another creature’s life is not an endeavor to be taken lightly.
There is an associated financial cost with pet ownership and maintaining and keeping pets healthy, groomed, and hygienic is very important, especially if you have a compromised immune system or other people in the household.
Training is also important, as an untrained dog with bad habits will certainly mean more emotional stress down the line once the cuteness factor of a puppy or kitten wears off.
Not keeping the animal clean and vaccinated can also introduce all sorts of bacteria into the home, not to mention increase your likelihood of contracting a zoonotic disease (a class of disease that is transferable from animal to human).
Once you’re done weighing the scales and you still want to enter into pet ownership, and you’re doing it for the right reasons, you can be assured that multiple studies and a wide swath of data finds associations between pet ownership and better mental and physical health outcomes.
Just make you sure you treat them right, and they’ll do the same.
- https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, “Healthy Pets, Healthy People,” last reviewed: April 30, 2014, Retrieved Dec 18, 2018
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25680670, Journal of Gastroenterology, “Association Between Psychological Distress and Liver Disease Mortality: A Meta-analysis of Individual Study Participants.” Published on May 14, 2015, Retrieved Dec 18, 2018
- https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16118-6, Journal of Scientific Reports, “Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study,” by Mwenya Mubanga, Liisa Byberg, Christoph Nowak, Agneta Egenvall, Patrik K. Magnusson, Erik Ingelsson & Tove Fall, Published Nov 17, 2017, Retrieved Dec 18, 2018
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15527691, Current Hypertension Reports, “Hypertension and Liver Disease,” published Dec 6, 2004, Retrieved Dec 18, 2018
- https://luc.edu/nursing/stories/archive/animaltherapypainmed.shtml, Loyola University in Chicago, by University Staff, Retrieved on Dec 18, 2018
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/348/6232/333, Science Magazine, “Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds,” by Miho Nagasawa, published on April 17, 2015, Retrieved Dec 18, 2018