Pamela Schreiner petting her cat.

Review examines the impact of pet ownership on cardiovascular risk

Charlie Plain | March 16, 2016
Pamela Schreiner petting her cat.
Professor Pamela Schreiner

A new research review by the School of Public Health compared various studies examining the health effects of pet ownership in relation to cardiovascular risk factors.

The review was recently published in Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports.

Professor Pamela Schreiner, director of the Center to Study Human-Animal Relationships and Environments, conducted the review.

Overall, Schreiner found the research shows pets can have both positive and negative effects on our health. Some studies linked pets to exercising more, increased sense of companionship, a structured lifestyle, and healthier habits. Other reports cited the downsides of allergies and asthma associated with pets, and how grief over losing a pet can negatively impact health.

In terms of cardiovascular risk factors, the findings in a limited number of studies were inconsistent. The results in these studies varied widely by showing that risk factors involving lipids, glucose, obesity, and heart rate either improved, worsened, or remained the same pet among owners.

Schreiner speculates that any cardiovascular health benefits associated with companion animals may come from life changes people make to own and care for pets or prepare for owning them, such as increasing exercise. Schreiner said the greatest deterrents to pet ownership are problems with housing, finances, and opportunity — factors that also impact cardiovascular health — so improving lifestyle and finances may impact human health through multiple avenues, including allowing pet ownership.

“If pets do improve human health, it is likely through social support, reduced depression, and other psychosocial predictors of health,” says Schreiner. “The physiologic evidence of these measures, in turn, may depend on the reasons for pet adoption, the personality of the owner, and the degree of bonding between the owner and the pet.”

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