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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a recent study suggests that Spot isn't actually making you any healthier.
Since the 1980s, we've heard that having a pet leads to better health, whether it's higher survival rates from myocardial infarction, a lower number of GP visits, reduced risk of asthma, or better physical and psychological well-being, particularly in the elderly. And there's no question that having a pet provides companionship—and the opportunity to get more human interaction (just visit any dog park for evidence of this!).
Trouble is, there are so many factors that go into determining the correlation between having a pet and being healthy, it's hard to know if one can really cause the other.
The most recent study, courtesy of RAND and run by Harvard-trained biostatician Layla Parast, found that it's less about the pets and more about what they signify: namely, that families with pets tend to be better off financially, which means they can afford bigger homes and better healthcare.
The study looked at more than 5,000 households and analyzed children's health, comparing kids in homes with cats versus children in homes without cats. (Don't worry, dog-lovers: portions of the study included dogs as well.) While researchers found that children from cat-owning homes did tend to have "better general health" and parents who were less concerned about their mood, behavior, or learning abilities, there was no direct evidence that the pets had anything to do with it.
"I think there are many other positive benefits to owning a pet besides thinking that it will improve your health," said Parast. "Obviously having a pet brings joy and companionship and a multitude of other things."
She added that, as a pet owner herself, she'd be very pleased to see future research supporting the idea that pets can have a positive influence on their owners' health. "It would be great to have a reason to hand out cuddly puppies to everyone who needs better health," she was quick to add. "I would be completely in favor of that. But there's no scientific evidence right now that shows that."