Animal magic is good for health


THE drop in pet ownership may pose a risk to the nation's health, as pets
have been linked to a variety of health benefits, according to

Professor Cary Cooper, of Lancaster University, says pets, especially cats
and dogs, provide a variety of benefits to the lonely and the ill.

"There has been research showing that pets are a boost, particularly to
people with low emotional intelligence," he said. "For people who can't
express emotions, having a pet helps lift inhibitions and gives a sense of
security and reliability.

"Pets are also routinely brought to hospices and cancer wards as comfort to
patients. They offer a perceived unconditional love. Many people don't find
that sort of affection elsewhere."

Prof Cooper added that, in physical terms, research had shown that those who
had heart attacks see their risk drop if they own a pet. "Whether that is
because having a dog forces them to take the dog for walks and so increases
exercise or whether it's because of some sort of comfort and support offered
by a pet, it's tough to say. Probably both."

He added that there was strong evidence that stroking cats and dogs lowers
blood pressure and heart rate, "but that's mostly in the short term".

"There are more tenuous studies that suggest cardiovascular and immune
health are both helped by having a pet," he said. "Most of these studies
involve cats and dogs. Unresponsive pets, such as reptiles, don't usually
have the same impact.

"But there is also something to be said for fish. It may not be that
actually having fish in a tank relaxes you, but the sound of water is very
soothing. From an evolutionary point of view, we once all lived close to
water sources so it would come as no surprise that the sound of a fish tank
bubbling would have a positive psychological impact."