Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Propitious pets

"We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment." -- Mary Anne Evans

Having a pet (specifically a dog) is good for you:

A psychologist from Queen's University, Belfast, said dog owners tended to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Writing in the British Journal of Health Psychology, she says that regular "walkies" may partly explain the difference.

Dr Deborah Wells reviewed dozens of earlier research papers which looked at the health benefits of pet ownership.

She confirmed that pet owners tended in general to be healthier than the average member of the population.
The article doesn't detail controls that may or may not have been used. As income increases, so does the propensity to own pets. Also, as family size increases, so does the likelihood that the family will have a pet. Income is correlated with physical health. Family size is more ambigious as many people living in extended family situations are doing so out of necessity, but married folks tend to be in better physical condition than lone wolves. I suspect that after taking financial well-being into account, larger families are generally healthier ones.

Wells' research, however, shows that dogs have a more benign affect on their owners than cats do. It's often argued (and it appears to have some empirical grounding) that the fidelity, courage, and selflessness of dogs make them choice pets for Republicans, while the insouciance, independence, and haughtiness of their feline counterparts attract Democrats to cats. And Republicans tend to be wealthier, healthier, and happier than Democrats.

So it may be that good health and other characteristics that are associated with it lead people to take in pets, especially dogs. But there are plausible reasons to believe that, ceteris paribus, dog ownership bestows health benefits on the owner. Dogs need exercise. They need to be walked, wrestled, and played with. That physical activity is good for you as well! Dogs relieve stress. Stress can cause inflammation, and inflammation is associated with all kinds of ill effects on your health. Dogs provide unrelenting companionship. They are a powerful bulwark against loneliness, which, like stress, is linked to all kinds of negative outcomes from learning problems to high blood pressure.

More reasons to get one of man's best friends. Unfortunately for me, I live alone and my work schedule keeps me away from home for periods of time that are too extended to adequately care for one. For those in my situation, I recommend this online substitute until your life's situation changes to the extent that you can adopt your own pet.

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