Pets bring unconditional love and immense joy to many families. They also consume nearly 1/3 of the animal products in the United States — creating what is, for many people, an ethical and environmental dilemma. What’s the answer? Can dogs be vegan or vegetarian? Can cats be plant-based? Or must they eat meat to survive?
I grew up with cats. The sound and warm vibration of my beloved Popo purring in my lap is one of the happiest memories of my childhood.
Companion animals teach us about unconditional love and devotion, and they often bring out the very best in us humans.
Now, studies are showing that having a companion animal can be good for us, too.
How Dogs and Cats Can Improve Our Health
It’s no secret that children often love pets. But recent research has taken it a step further.
Children raised with pets are less likely to become asthmatic, more likely to be kind to other children, and more likely to have healthy self-esteem once they reach their teens.
Researchers are also finding that having pets positively influences children’s physical and emotional development and even their scholastic achievement.
But it’s not only children who can benefit from a loving relationship with a furry friend. One of the most celebrated “pet studies” was undertaken by Erika Friedmann and her co-workers at the University of Pennsylvania.
They found an unmistakable association between pet ownership and extended survival in patients hospitalized with coronary heart disease.
Those patients who had pets at home were far more likely to survive — even after accounting for differences in the extent of heart damage and other medical problems.
In 1991, the medical value of pets became unexpectedly apparent to researchers who were conducting the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial. They were studying the effects of two pharmaceutical drugs (encainide and flecainide) on men who had had heart attacks and were now experiencing irregular heartbeats.
Paradoxically, the drugs were found to cause an increase in cardiac deaths. At the same time, however, it was noted that those patients who had dogs were only one-sixth as likely to die during the year of the study as those who did not have dogs.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the drugs rather than the dogs had been shown to cause a six-fold decrease in deaths?
The drugs might be prescribed for every heart attack patient in the world with an irregular heartbeat. And drug companies would be spending hundreds of millions of dollars telling physicians and the public how great the drugs were.
But because the loyalty and loving friendship of a dog cannot be bottled and sold, there has been no such publicity campaign. And most people to this day do not realize how much healing can be found in loving relationships — including ones with companion animals.
But There’s A Shadow Side, Too
No offense to Fido or Buddy, nor to Leo or Cleopatra, but there are also shadows to pet ownership. It’s worth taking a fair look at them to round out the picture.