Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7527.1252 (Published 24 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1252
  1. June McNicholas, psychologist (june@cullach.fsnet.co.uk)1,
  2. Andrew Gilbey, lecturer2,
  3. Ann Rennie, general practitioner3,
  4. Sam Ahmedzai, professor of palliative medicine4,
  5. Jo-Ann Dono, director3,
  6. Elizabeth Ormerod, veterinary surgeon3
  1. 1 Croit Cullach, Durnamuck, Dundonnell, Ross-shire
  2. 2Massey University, New Zealand
  3. 3 Society for Companion Animal Studies, Blue Cross, Burford, Oxon
  4. 4 Royal Hallamshire Hospital, University of Sheffield
  1. Correspondence to: J McNicholas
  • Accepted 4 November 2005

Research into the association between pet ownership and human health has produced intriguing, although frequently contradictory, results often raising uncertainty as to whether pet ownership is advisable on health grounds

Introduction

The question of whether someone should own a pet is never as simple as whether that pet has a measurably beneficial or detrimental effect on the owner's physical health. The emotional bond between owner and pet can be as intense as that in many human relationships and may confer similar psychological benefits. Death of a pet can cause grief similar to that in human bereavement, whereas threat of loss of a pet may be met with blunt refusal and non-compliance with advice on health.

We examine the current evidence for a link between pet ownership and human health and discuss the importance of understanding the role of pets in people's lives.

Is pet ownership associated with human health?

Research dating from the 1980s popularised the view that pet ownership could have positive benefits on human health. Benefits ranged from higher survival rates from myocardial infarction1; a significantly lower use of general practitioner services (prompting some researchers to speculate on considerable potential savings to health expenditure)2; a reduced risk of asthma and allergic rhinitis in children exposed to pet allergens during the first year of life3 4; a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease5; and better physical and psychological wellbeing in community dwelling older people.6 No studies have found significant social or economic differences between people who do or do not have pets that would adequately explain differences in health outcome, leading to the belief that pet ownership itself is the primary cause of the reported benefits.

Although the research did much to raise awareness of the importance that people attach to their pets, recent studies have failed to replicate …

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