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Dogs, cats, guinea pigs and fish: Which pet's best when it comes to your health?

4 minute read
Healthy young man with his gray dog on the grass

Ask anyone who owns a furry, scaly or feathered animal and you’ll quickly learn that they’re more like a best friend than a family pet – but which pet reigns supreme in the clash of the critters?

We trawled through research papers in an attempt to find out which pets are best for you. From boosting your immunity to relieving pain, here’s our top picks of the pets that can seriously help your health.

Dogs

It seems that this four-legged friend really is ‘top dog’ when it comes to your health.

• Puppy playtime or pain meds? – A 2014 study looked at whether patients recovering from total joint replacement surgery were impacted by animal-assisted therapy. One group of patients was given 5-15 minutes daily with a specially trained dog, while the other group were not. The patients who spent time with the dogs had a 28% less need for oral pain medication than the control group.

• They keep you fit – Published in 2013, a study found that the presence of a dog has the potential to increase physical activity in obese children with researchers suggesting that dogs can enhance your motivation to get moving.

• Sniffing out cancers – Dogs have a strong sense of smell. In fact, their nose is home to more than 220 million olfactory receptors, compared to a human’s which has only five million – that’s why we use sniffer dogs! But did you know that they can also smell out cancer? There are a number of studies showing that man’s best friend can use their sense of smell to detect prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma.

Credit: BBC Earth

Cats

Cat owners can rest easy knowing their feline friends have clawed their way into second place.

• Reduced risk of heart attack – A study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that people with pet cats had a decreased risk of death to cardiovascular diseases (including strokes and heart attacks).

• Prevents allergies – Want to minimise your chance of getting an allergy to a pet? Research has shown that teens who lived with a cat during their first year of life had a 48% lower risk of having a cat allergy than their peers.

• They make you happy – Even if you don’t have a pet cat at home to cuddle, you can still benefit from them. A study by Indiana University found that after watching cat videos online people were more energetic and felt more positive.

Credit: MashupZone

Guinea pigs

They may be tiny, but guinea pigs are mighty when it comes to health benefits!

• Enhanced social skills – One study looked into the effects that guinea pigs had on primary school children in the classroom and found that the presence of the guinea pigs led to an increase in the children’s social skills and a decrease in problem behaviours.

Young girl with her white and gray cat

Fish

This one proves that you don’t necessarily need a high-maintenance pet to get the health benefits.

• Improved wellbeing – A study published in the Environment & Behaviour journal showed that people who spent time watching fish tanks and aquariums could see an improvement in their physical and mental wellbeing.

Horses

It seems Daryl Braithwaite was onto something when he suggested a horse riding trip to his little darlin’.

• Improved cognition – A study published in the Frontiers in Public Health journal showed that horse riding might improve a child’s brain-based skills, which can lead to better learning, memory and problem-solving. The researchers concluded that the vibrations produced by horses while the children were horse-riding activated their sympathetic nervous system, which led to the improved cognition.

Looking for more ways to stay healthy? Visit our Healthy Living page.

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