Benefits and risks of having a pet

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People have kept animals for companion since 15,000 years ago. Pet ownership is a feature to every human culture in the world. In the USA, about 37 -47% of families have a dog, and 30-37% have a cat.

People own pets for many different reasons, including companionship, sport, and entertainment. However, pets can bring not only happiness, but also risks and danger.

In a review newly published in Journal of Veterinary Behavior, researchers summarize the benefits and risks of having a pet.

The main benefits include:

Better quality of life. Many pet owners have showed reduced complaints about minor health problems and higher measureable quality of life.

Less health problems and costs. Pet owners have lower levels of risk for heart disease and usually visit their primary physicians much less often than people who have no pets. In addition, cat and dog owners have been shown to spend a lower proportion of their income on human health care expenses than non-pet owners.

Healthy childhood. Research has shown that there may be particular benefits for children to have pets. In children, empathy towards animals may increase empathy towards people. This effects can last a long time.

Emotional support. Pets can provide emotional support for owners. Pet owners have less aggression, depression, and loneliness than people who have no pets. They also have less anxiety symptoms and pain perception.

Animal-assisted intervention. Professionally trained pets can assist intervention. For example, they can help aphasic patients in psychotherapy, children with autism or ADHD, children with reading problems, Down’s syndrome, people with Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological dysfunction.

Better social interaction. Having a pet can increase positive social attention from others and increase the pet owner’s social contact with other people. This is very important for children, adults, disabled people and people who cannot communicate normally.

The risks of having a pet mainly include allergies, infections, and animal-related accidents.

Dogs can carry several viruses, including Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, Rabies virus, and Bluetongue virus. Cats can carry Rabies virus and Bluetongue virus. Both animals can also cause some bacterial diseases. In addition, bite wounds can cause infections.

Sometimes, contact with pets’ saliva, skin, urine, and faces may increase the risk of disease transmission. Children may be particularly vulnerable to the risk of the diseases and infections.

Pet owners or other people can be attacked by pets. People who are not aware of typical behavior of a cat or dog may have a higher risk of bites and scratches. This can become dangerous when they cannot interpret animal’s fear and aggression.

Researchers suggest that stray dogs can cause serious health and welfare problems for both man and animals. Therefore, how to control stray dogs effectively is a very important issue.

To summarize, having a pet can bring lots of benefits and happiness, but there are also some risks in health and safety. Before owning a pet, one should think about these benefits and risks carefully.


Citation: Sterneberg-van der Maaten T, et al. (2016). Benefits and Risks for People and Livestock of Keeping Companion Animals: Searching for a Healthy Balance. Journal of Comparative Pathology, 155: S8-S17. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcpa.2015.06.007
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