Pets Improve our Health

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By: Dr. Jack Stephens

As you know from my prior blogs, and the book I am writing, pets are good for us. Pets have measurable positive effect on our biochemistry that improves our health and well being.

Recently there was an Associated Press article titled “Americans Tenderly Stuffing their Pets with Drugs” and another version “Americans Increasingly Medicating their Pets,” both on the same theme. The article pointed out that $2.9 billion was spent on drugs for pets and was now larger than spending on drugs for farm animals.

Basically, the article’s premise is that we continue to indulge and spend more on our pets. It was interesting to note that pet owners quoted in the articles where not complaining, they were simply stating how they felt it was important to them to provide whatever medication their pet needed. One pet owner estimated she spent $5,000 over the past two years. “You cannot put a price on that,” she was quoted as saying. And her husband, replied, “And I don’t want to.”

Why are pet owners willing to spend so much more on their pets?

Could it be they are receiving enough value from their pet to offset the expense?

The benefits of pets are just now being fully understood by science, something pet owners have known all along. Pets relieve stress, decrease feelings of anxiety, reduce and even eliminate depression. Pets entertain us, provide us with a feeling of security, cause us to exercise more, provide valuable services such as for the deaf, the blind, the physically handicapped and in psychotherapy. They make us smile. When we smile, we feel better. Pets are a “social lubricant” for meeting, greeting and conversing with others.

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Scientific measurements have shown that sitting with your pet (dogs were used for the study) and petting them, improves your biochemistry of hormones and neurotransmitters. Your stress (bad hormones) decreases and your good hormones increase by that simple act. Your immune system is believed to be positively impacted by pets, thereby helping you to fight off disease and illness.

Pets make people feel less lonely and they provide us with unconditional love, which is hard to find these days. Pets listen to us (97% of pet owner’s report they talk to their pet) and even though they cannot answer back, we always feel better after talking to them.


A better story would be “Pets make us Healthier,” thereby decreasing our own reliance on drugs and reducing human medical cost. All medications have unintended consequences, even if unnoticed. Why not allow interaction with a companion pet improve your health and decrease your reliance on some medications?

In a survey of surgery patients, those with a companion pet reported less post-surgical pain than those without a pet. Less post-operative pain would indicate that pet owners required less medication and shorter hospital stays. Heart attack victims with a companion pet had a higher survival rate than non-pet owners. It has been demonstrated that quiet pet interaction decreases our blood pressure.

I strongly believe that increased spending on pets is the result of people intuitively knowing they feel better and want to maintain and reward that relationship by providing the medication necessary to increase their pet’s longevity and health.

As to cost, the articles stated that even at $2.9 billion spent on pet drugs, it was only 1% of the cost of human drugs. The headline would lead one to think spending on pet drugs is excessive.

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However, consider the benefits of pets with only one very prevalent epidemic in America, depression. There are an estimated 48 million people (16% of the population) with some form of depression in the United States. If only 25 % of these people were able to eliminate antidepressants and it saved only $200 per year, that would translate into a savings of $2.4 billion annually in decreased drug cost for those drugs alone! Add to that the fact that those people would have the extra benefit of not having the many side affects that these drugs can cause and you can see how the cost of owning a pet is money well spent.

Of course we know that the actual annual cost of medication for depression is higher, but you get my drift. Pets pay for themselves many times over, and we receive so many more benefits from pets than simply helping to relieve or prevent mild depression.

I have personally witnessed a number of people on antidepressants who have eliminated the need for the drugs completely by the singular act of obtaining a household companion pet.

A close relationship with a companion pet increases your sense of well being, improves your body chemistry, increases natural anti-depression chemicals and enhances your immune system, thereby improving your odds of fighting off disease and illness: all natural methods biologically rooted into humans. Why not indulge something that helps you so much and in so many ways? Imagine how much money we might save in our present health care system by simply prescribing a companion pet.

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My motto? “Prescribe Pets Not Pills.”

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