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Research

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Does Pet Ownership Reduce Your Risk for Heart Disease   (Vol. 10, No.3, Interactions) The Love That Cures (Solving the Mystery of How Animals Keep Us Healthy) (Don Wallace, Self/July 1992)
What You Already Knew - Fluffy and Fido Are Good For You (Vol. 10, No. 1, Interactions) Pets and Mental Health (Odean Cusack, The Hayworth Press, New York)
Our Pets, Our Health (Pets information Bureau, Washington, DC) In the Presence Of Animals (Sarah Burke, U.S. News & World report, Feb 92)
Are companion Animals Good for your Health? (Aaron Honori Katcher, M.D., Aging, Nos. 331-332) Betty White's Pet Love (Betty White with Thomas J. Watson, Williams Morrow & Company, New York)
Between Pets and People (1) (Alan Beck, Sc.D and Aaron Katcher, M.D., G.P. Putnam's sons) Pet Partners Brighten Lives (Fred Baldwin, National City Bank, News, Vol.3, No. 4)
Rewards and Responsibilities (Susan Bury Stauffer, Aging, Nos. 331-332) Animals Offer Young and Old a Very Special Kind of Medicine (Lifestyles, Boston Sunday Globe, 8/2/92)
RX: Animals (Micky Niego, ASPCA Animal watch) Older Dogs, Older People Matched Up in Pet Program (Joseph Schwerdt, Ft. Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel)
A Pet a Day (Sandra Y. Lee, McCall's Magazine) The Health Benefit of Pets (NTH Technology Assessment workshop)
Between Pets and People (2) (Alan Beck, ScS and Aaron Katcher, M.D., G.P.Putnams Sons, New York) Pets Vital to the Health, Happiness of the Elderly (Deborah Lawson, Philadelphia Inquirer)
The Power of Pet Therapy (Linda Feagler, Senior Living, Avenue, April 1995)  

 

“Does Pet Ownership Reduce Your Risk for Heart Disease?” (Vol. 10, No. 3, Interactions)

Do you exercise, watch your diet or take medication to lower your blood pressure, blood fats and cholesterol levels? If you do, maybe you should also get yourself a pet.

 

New research confirms and expands earlier studies indicating a link between pet ownership and a reduced risk of developing heart disease.

 

Results of a three-year study of 5,741 people at the Baker Medical Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia, show that pet owners had lower blood pressure and triglyceride and cholesterol levels than did non-owners – a result that could not be explained by such personal differences as cigarette smoking, diet, weight or socio-economic profile…

…Of the 3,394 men and 2,347 women engaged in the study, 784 reported that they owned one or more pets.

…they showed significantly lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, as well as lower systolic blood pressure readings than for non-pet owners…When examining the results, researchers tried to determine if there was some factor other than pet ownership that was influencing the outcome. Not so. 

A look at lifestyle risk factors also failed to turn up any evidence that could have influenced the findings. Pet owners reported that they were more active, but they also drank more alcohol and ate more take-out food. 

While studies continue…pet owners can look at their animal companions with even greater appreciation for the ways they enrich their lives.

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“The Love That Cures (Solving the Mystery of How Animals Keep Us Healthy)” (Don Wallace, Self/July 1992)

“If this were a drug, it would be marketed tomorrow,” says Roger Lavelle, Vet. MB, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne 's Veterinary Clinical Centre. Dr. Lavelle isn't talking about the latest in high-tech surgical procedures, gene splices, implants or radiation treatments. He's referring to a study…that may add to medicine's dazzling repertoire of tools something decidedly low-tech – even, shall we say, warm and fuzzy.

Lavelle is talking about pets. The study…makes sensational claims for pets…the results are the strongest evidence yet of a connection between animals and human health – one that has been puzzling scientists for more than a decade…pet owners have significantly reduced levels of known risk factors for cardiovascular disease…pet ownership helped not only the lonely or socially isolated, but everyone.


“What You Already Knew – Fluffy and Fido Are Good For You” (Vol. 10, No. 1, Interactions)

…It's becoming increasingly evident that pets benefit their owners physically, psychologically and socially. It may sound like a tall order for a small bundle of fur to fill, but there's apparently a lot to be said for the snuggling, laughter and unconditional love that pets provide…and…while human best friends can be evaluative or judgmental, pets are not.

 

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“Pets and Mental Health” (Odean Cusack, The Hayworth Press, New York)

The value of prescribing a pet for an otherwise lonely individual has been recognized by many in the field…(such as)…the case of a 72-year-old man who, although recently widowed, declined to live with his son. 

During the week, he was alone – it soon became evident that he was not eating enough to stay healthy. He and his wife had a cat, but it died about a month before his wife did – and he had not the energy replace it. The son came to the shelter to get a cat for his father…his father was delighted with the pet … with the result that the man ate more than formerly. By the end of the first week, an elderly lady who lived next door had made friends with the cat – and through it – with the man…


“Our Pets, Our Health” (Pet Information Bureau, Washington, DC)

Many of us occasionally feel alienated from others and some of us, such as the elderly…feel this loneliness even more acutely. Pets can help bridge this isolation by serving as a social catalyst between young and old.

With the growing number of elderly people living alone, pets are especially important in increasing their interest in life…pets give the elderly something to care for, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise and socialization. Taking care of a pet can also serve as an alarm clock for elderly people – reminding him to take care of himself, too. In fact, animal companionship can dramatically improve the quality of life and may even have a positive impact on longevity. 

Animals also give us a much-needed natural outlet for touching and cuddling – especially to those who live alone. So…the next time you find yourself tense or irritable, take a few minutes to play with your pet. You may find that animal companionship is a wonderful prescription for healthy relaxation!

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“In the Presence of Animals” (Sarah Burke, U.S. News & World Report, Feb '92)

Reviewing 25 studies on the effects of pets on elderly people in nursing homes… (it was) found that residents exposed to pets consistently smiled more and became measurably more alert than those who did not encounter animals. Physically-aggressive patients became more noticeably tolerant of people standing near them when an animal was present…Animals normalize the environment, and allow people to be more appropriate, more at ease.

Elderly people who own pets also make fewer visits to doctors than those who are without animal companions, possibly because the animals mitigate loneliness. “Perhaps,” suggests Judith Siegel, Professor of Public Health at the University of California at Los Angeles, “pet ownership might provide a new form of low-cost health intervention.”


“Are Companion Animals Good for your Health?” (Aaron Honori Katcher, M.D., Aging, Nos. 331-332)

When people speak to people, blood pressure almost always rises. Sometimes the rises are quite large, bringing the subject's blood pressure into the hypertensive range. In contrast, when people speak to pets, blood pressure remains the same and can even fall below the level recorded when the subject is resting quietly.

 

When people speak to animals, they touch them as well. Touching is a means of communication that can be highly effective in reducing stress. 

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“Betty White's Pet Love” (Betty White with Thomas J. Watson, William Morrow & Company, New York)

Many elderly people have discovered that pets satisfy their greatest needs, and trigger a reversal of many negative self-images. According to Dr. Leo Bustad, “Pets restore order to their basic lives, provide a more secure grasp of reality, and link their owners to a community of caring, concern, sacrifice, and intense emotional relationships.”

Pets have been found to decrease loneliness in the elderly, give a person something to care for, something to watch and perhaps play with, something that provides a sense of security, something that stimulates some degree of exercise…above all, something that necessitates maintaining some kind of daily routine.

Pets ease the advent of old age by diverting an older person's attention away from himself and onto the playful antics of a dog or cat. The aches and pains are momentarily forgotten. Pets are a source of ongoing life…they serve as a much needed connection to youth…a pet is the greatest ego booster in the world — they think you're the greatest!


“Between Pets and People” (Alan Beck, Sc.D. and Aaron Katcher, M.D., G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York)

A frail, elderly man was brought to the nursing home from the local hospital. He had been discovered in a severely malnourished and confused state in a rural farmhouse, living alone in filth. Once his condition stabilized, he was brought in restraints to the nursing home, since he refused to eat…but…each day, he worked to free himself from the restraints and remove the feeding tube. The staff…found the Center's three kittens in bed with him. When the cats were removed, he became agitated. A reward system was devised whereby the cats would be returned to him if he ate. He gained forty pounds, and interacted with other residents. The cats were the bridge that brought him back to reality. The director of nursing stated that, otherwise, she believes he would have died.

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“Pet Partners Brighten Lives” (Fred Baldwin, National City Bank “News”, Vol. 3, No. 4)

Laurie Doyle is the pet specialist for Tacoma Lutheran Community & Retirement Home. She recalls a time when one of the home's golden retrievers suddenly left her side to seek out a woman sobbing alone in a wheelchair…the dog laid its head on the woman's lap and nuzzled her hands. It took a few minutes for the woman to notice the dog, but then she said, “Oh…somebody does love me” over and over.

In another instance, the institution made an exception to its usual rule of not allowing individual residents to keep pets. “We had a woman whose husband, also a resident, had died. Her own cat came in to help her with the grieving process. She focused so much on this cat… it really tugged at the heart."

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“Rewards and Responsibilities” (Susan Bury Stauffer, Aging, Nos. 331-332)

Animals come with their own sets of requirements, and meeting those requirements is a big responsibility.

Make sure you have the right pet in the right situation – no German shepherds in efficiency apartments. Many elderly people may feel compelled to get large dogs for protection, but a large dog can be hard for an older person to handle.

Elderly adopters must choose carefully between quieter, more mature dogs, and puppies, which are fun and playful but also require careful and patient training. Cats can live indoors all the time and keep themselves clean, but their litter box needs to be changed regularly. Different breeds of dogs and cats tend to have specific characteristics. For example, dachshunds, poodles, and some terrier breeds have particularly good pet personalities. If an elderly person becomes unable to care for a pet, reliable alternative arrangements need to be made.

Anyone who has owned a beloved pet knows how much animals have to offer. But, in return, they need proper care and companionship themselves. When their needs are understood and met, pets can help remedy loneliness and lack of purpose for elderly people by providing a warm and fulfilling relationship.

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“Animals Offer Young and Old a Very Special Kind of Medicine” (Lifestyles, Boston Sunday Globe, 8/2/92)

Her arthritis feels like fire today, but Skippy Reid is smiling and laughing girlishly – only moments before, her eyes mist with tears. She's not sad – the dog visiting her room just brings back memories.

Her dog, Boozer, had cancer, and Reid had to put him to sleep. She keeps his photograph on her bulletin board at the Hampton Court Nursing Center in North Dade County. Reid remembers…cupping the furry face, snuggling beside her on the bed like an old friend. Reid laughs through her tears…

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“Rx: Animals” (Micky Niego, ASPCA Animal Watch)

Canines have been called upon for many years to be trained to help guide the blind and to assist the deaf in their daily interactions in a loud world. Other animals are helpers to individuals in wheelchairs who don't have strong arms.

…The results are undeniable…quality time spent with an animal can be used to manage behavior, stimulate memory, encourage muscle groups to work in harmony and much, much more. There are instances when an animal can reach an individual in ways that another human cannot. Acceptance and attention from an animal can restore feelings of self worth and lift one from the seat of despair, depression and boredom.

Animals…are non-judgmental in their interactions with us when it comes to socioeconomic status or ability to gather material wealth. Most animals don't mind how a person looks, acts, sounds or smells.

We all know that a positive attitude helps the healing process – and every animal lover knows there's no more positive feedback than the attention of an animal companion.

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“Older Dogs, Older People Matched Up in Pet Program” (Joseph Schwerdt, Ft. Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel)

Adeline Lambert gets misty eyes when she thinks about her late pet, Mickey. The feisty but lovable pug died last year, leaving Adeline and Bill Lambert without a pet for the first time in more than a dozen years. The Lamberts turned to the Animal Rescue League…who matches old dogs, who may not otherwise be adopted, with people aged 60 or more who are looking for companionship.

The Lamberts found the perfect match. Nugget is a homely, over-weight, arthritic pug who the Lamberts love. “The minute I saw her, I knew she was my dog,” said Adeline…

90% of seniors polled say they are less lonely and much happier since adopting an animal. The dogs can be of any age or breed, but most seniors like small, older dogs…those that won't be adopted by families with children.

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“A Pet a Day” (Sandra Y. Lee, McCall's Magazine)

In a recent study, researchers found that elderly people who own pets visit doctors less often than those without four-legged friends. Pets have been shown to build self-esteem, increase mental alertness, and lift the spirits of people with Alzheimer's disease. Pet owners seemed more apt to cope by themselves, whereas people without pets went to the doctor 16% more often when faced with stressful situations.

The very qualities that make us love our pets may make them good for us. Pets give people a sense of purpose, provide nonjudgmental acceptance, and allow people to become attached to something – and feel that something is attached to them.



“The Health Benefits of Pets” (NTH Technology Assessment Workshop)

The cumulative weight of studies strongly suggests that psychosocial benefits can be gained from animal visitation programs (at nursing home and health centers)…For example, the presence of animals in institutional settings is associated with the tendency of older persons to smile and talk more, reach out toward people and objects, exhibit more alertness and attention, and experience more symptoms of well-being and less depression.

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“Between Pets and People” (Alan Beck, ScD and Aaron Katcher, M.D., G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York)

Our interest in this subject grew out of a study of patients with severe coronary artery disease. Patients with pets had a significantly greater survival rate during the first year after their discharge from the hospital. The results of that study were subjected to a painstaking statistical analysis before being published, because it seemed almost impossible that an activity as ordinary as keeping a pet could influence the course of a deadly disease. It was only later, when the investigators knew more about the many ways in which pets change their owners' lives, that the life-preserving effect of pets became believable.

 



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“Pets Vital to the Health, Happiness of the Elderly” (Deborah Lawson, Philadelphia Inquirer)

A large and growing arsenal of scientific evidence shows that pets are of vital importance to the health and happiness of the aged. Norman Rockwell's little old lady and her dog may be a saccharine chromo lithograph, but it illustrates a powerful and healing relationship.

The old lady looks pathetic and her aging dog even more so but, without the dog, the elderly woman might be sitting in the dark rented room with only a television set that blares sales pitches for products she'll never afford and flaunts the image of youth – only youth – perpetual American youth.

A dog can be a friend and partner. Allowing pet owners to love and feel loved may be the greatest contribution pets make.


“The Power of Pet Therapy” (Linda Feagler, Senior Living, Avenues, April 1995)

They've been proven to reduce high blood pressure, relieve anxiety and promote longer lives. Is this prescription a magic pill or potion? Neither, says Dr. Susan Jones, professor of nursing at Kent State University. Just the power of pet therapy.

To a child, a pet is a playmate. But to an older person, a pet becomes a companion and confidant. Pet ownership means exercise and responsibility. Often, a pet is the only reason an older adult feels he or she has to get up in the morning.

“When you cuddle and pet an animal, you experience such feelings of calmness and affection,” says Betty Wilson of Fairview Park . “I wouldn't trade my dog or cat for all the money in the world.”

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