Azara Blog: Owning a dog allegedly makes you healthier

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Date published: 2007/01/22

The BBC says:

If you want to live a healthier life get a dog, research suggests.

The companionship offered by many pets is thought to be good for you, but the benefits of owning a dog outstrip those of cat owners, the study says.

A psychologist from Queen's University, Belfast, said dog owners tended to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Writing in the British Journal of Health Psychology, she says that regular 'walkies' may partly explain the difference.

Dr Deborah Wells reviewed dozens of earlier research papers which looked at the health benefits of pet ownership.

She confirmed that pet owners tended in general to be healthier than the average member of the population.

However, her research suggested that dog ownership produced more positive influence than cat ownership.

A classic confusion of correlation and causation. Property P is observed in group G, therefore if you force everyone into group G, everyone will have property P. It completely ignores the fact that having property P might make it more likely you are in group G in the first place. Here, it is not unreasonable that healthier people are more likely to have pets (they have the energy to look after them, after all). And similarly with the alleged dog / cat dichotomy. You need to be able to look after dogs by walking them, so it is not unreasonable that dog owners are healthier than cat owners in the first place.

Well, the personality of dog and cat owners is also fairly different. Dogs look up to humans, and want to be part of the pack, and dog owners are people who respond to that. Similarly, cats look down on humans, and hate everything and anything that is alive, except the hand that feeds them, and that too probably is a reflection of the personality of cat owners. These (over-generalised) personality traits could well reflect some underlying physical health situation.

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