December 8, 2019

Pet Scans

Are pets truly healthful for humans?

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q:This may not be politically correct, but I see pet dogs invading our public spaces on airplanes, trains, and buses, and just wonder if pets are really all that healthy for humans.

A:It is said that “a dog is man’s best friend”; and, as you pointed out, more and more animals are seen providing support, even therapy. “Pet therapy” refers to the use of animal intervention for human health. It ranges from animal-assisted activities (such as comfort, companionship, and cheer to institutionalized patients) to animal-assisted therapy to help people cope better with, and recover from medical conditions. A new term, emotional support animals (ESA), refers to animals that are trained to provide special comfort and ease to persons with anxiety (especially for flying and crowds) and depression. Anyone who has ever been greeted enthusiastically by a dog when arriving home after a hard day has experienced the power of pet therapy firsthand.

Despite the aforementioned, a great concern with the use of animals in hospitals and public indoor spaces is safety and sanitation. Well-thought-through and strictly enforced rules concerning cleanliness, vaccinations, training, and field testing must be in place. Unfortunately, some people fraudulently pass off their pets as service animals, and this creates a significant potential hazard since real service animals undergo careful selection for temperament and stringent training that allows them to perform their functions with calm efficiency and appropriate gentleness without becoming distracted or uncontrollable.

Regular pets are usually not trained in this way, but should be healthy and of appropriate size and temperament, especially around small children and those who are elderly.

Home pets have been shown to:

  • lower the likelihood of allergies by 19-33 percent if persons are exposed in infancy and childhood.
  • improve socialization skills of their owners; pet-focused social networking sites even provide digital opportunity.
  • decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; decrease heart attack risk and improve recovery after one. Having a cat is associated with 30 percent less risk of a heart attack and 40 percent less risk of stroke.
  • act as personal trainers (dogs); dog walking is associated with lower obesity rates.
  • improve mood and help beat the blues and loneliness. Pets give their owners a sense of purpose, joy, and happiness, along with unconditional love.
  • decrease anxiety outbursts in patients with dementia.

Some pet dogs have been able to detect health conditions of their owners and warn them of impending problems, such as migraine, epileptic and nonepileptic seizures, high and low blood sugar levels, and even some cancers. This adds new meaning to the expression “pet scans.” Playing with your pet, hugging your spouse, watching sunsets, or appreciating the beauty in nature raise serotonin and dopamine, the body’s “feel-good” hormones, healthily without drugs. Oxytocin, our “trust and bonding” hormone, is boosted in both dogs and humans when dog owners look into the eyes of their dogs. Even robot pets provide health benefits to lonely people.

Yes, it is God who made us and the animals to work and play together, and that is His desire for us in the new earth. But despite all that’s been said above, it is God Himself, not the dog, who is man’s and woman’s best friend!

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.