Body & Fitness

Owning a pet: pros and cons for your health

Is your furry friend helping or hindering your health?

Owning a pet is good for your general wellbeing, according to researchers. But pets can also pass on some pretty awful illnesses. So what are the pros and cons for your health?

The good news

Children who grow up with pets have stronger immune systems and fewer sick days than kids who don’t have any, according to British research.

  • Tests showed those with animals had higher levels of an antibody that fights infection.

  • While you can be allergic to some animals, such as cats, there is growing evidence that children raised with pets are less likely to develop allergies than those who don’t have them.

  • Studies suggest that children who grow up with a cat in the house tend to be less sensitive to them, possibly because exposure to them helps to build up the immune system. One study even suggests growing up with pets makes you less prone to other kinds of allergies.

  • German researchers have found that children who grow up in ultra-clean houses with no animals are more likely to get asthma and eczema.

  • Dogs are great for fitness and may help with weight-loss because you have to regularly walk them. An Australian study has found children who have a dog are less likely to be obese.

  • Being around animals can help to lower blood pressure. Tests show that stroking dogs and cats can lower blood pressure after just a short time.

  • They are good for your mental health – pet owners tend to be less stressed and suffer fewer anxiety attacks.

  • Heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those who don’t. Men with pets have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels – factors in heart disease – than those don’t.

The bad news

Animals carry a lot of bacteria in their mouths, which they get when they pick up things such as dead birds or rodents.

  • If they lick you and their saliva penetrates your skin or comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth or eyes, they can transmit bacterial organisms. These may lead to skin infections, flu-like symptoms and, in rare cases, serious diseases like meningitis.

  • Cats can pass on a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis via their faeces. It is very dangerous for pregnant women, as it can lead to miscarriage or birth defects in their babies.

  • Cats and dogs are prone to fleas, which are more of a nuisance than a danger if they bite you – although some people can develop allergic reaction.

  • Chicken and reptiles such as tortoises may carry salmonella, which can be picked up from their faeces. Dogs, cats, guinea pigs and birds may also pass it on via their droppings.

Top tips

Always wash your hands thoroughly straight after having any contact with animals or with their droppings, such as after cleaning litter boxes or gardening.

Related stories

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.