Can A Pet Help Me Cope With Stress, And Does It Matter What Kind Of Pet?

Dr. Raison answers the question: 'Can Laughing Help Me Cope With Stress?'

ByABC News
April 17, 2008, 11:47 AM

— -- Question: Can a pet help me cope with stress, and does it matter what kind of pet?

Answer: So another thing that people can do to help themselves cope with stress is have a pet. There's a lot of evidence that pets help people feel better about life. And there's a lot of reasons probably why this happens. An obvious one is that people do better in terms of their health if they feel that they're in relationship with other beings -- if they feel that they're part of a social network. And pets, you know, very much fulfill that purpose.

And there's good studies, for instance, that if you bring pets into hospital wards, a patient's blood pressure is lower, their immune systems improve. The body responds to that positive emotion by feeling that it's in a safer place. And that translates into change in physical activity in ways that are very helpful for health.

Which pet should one pick? I think that is totally in the eye of the beholder. The pet that works for you is the pet that you most care about. I'm a dog person, so for me it would be a dog. But I think that depends on what type of animal one feels a bond with.

Now I will tell you that some animals may be better than others in terms of health risks. So there's now very interesting data for instance that children that are raised with dogs have much lower rates of asthma and allergy than children that aren't raised with dogs. And that's specific to dogs -- you don't see that effect with cats for instance. So there may be specific benefits that certain pets bring, and that's an area that is just now being looked at scientifically.

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