Pets and Happiness

Pet lovers across the world would attest to the health benefits of their furry friends.  Dogs or cats are unconditionally loving, they would say.

Science has long agreed with pet lovers on the health benefits of having a pet.  Many hospitals and homes for elders employ pets as companions to patients.  They have been reported to help with depression and lower blood pressure rates.  But is there really a universal health benefit to having a pet?

Professor of Psychology, Harold Herzog, from the Western Carolina University, claims there is not enough scientific evidence to support the claim that pets help people live happier, healthier, or longer lives.

Aps (Association for Psychological Science) reports that research shows conflicting data both in support of the health benefits of owning a pet and for negative reports that pet owners are not better off health wise.

Herzog argues, that the reason for these inconsistencies is that the studies suffer from methodological problems, such as small, homogenous samples, lack of appropriate control groups, and reliance on self-report to measure participants’ health and well being.

What are your thoughts on the health benefits of pets?

Herzog, author of Some we love, some we hate, some we eat: Why it’s so hard to think straight about animals, assures the public that he too is a pet lover. “I’m not trying to delineate the role of animals in human life…It’s entirely plausible that our pets really do provide medical and psychological benefits.  We don’t know how strong that effect is, what types of people it works for, and what the underlying biological and psychological mechanisms might be.”

There is no doubt that animals are very important in many aspects of people’s lives.  Herzog states that it is clear they serve a therapeutic function.  Service dogs that help people with disabilities have provided ample and necessary help to those who otherwise might not receive it.

Do you think Herzog makes a good argument when he cites reliance on self-reports and small homogenous samples as the reason why some studies are not reliable?

Take a look at the video below for additional information on Herzog and his book.

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