The good news, at face value, is this: if you are looking for proof that having a pet improves your general health, the evidence abounds. For instance, there is plenty about how a bout of pet-stroking can lower your heart rate (and the pet’s), easing your body into a less stressed condition. This seems to apply across the spectrum, from dogs and cats to snakes and goats. And there’s more. There’s evidence from Germany and Australia (sample size: 10,000) that pet-owners make fewer visits to the doctor and, from China, that pet-owners sleep more soundly than those who aren’t. Just last week, the American Heart Association reported that the survival prospects for people who have had heart attacks and strokes are better in dog-owners than in those who are not.
If we were able to put all these pros and cons into a melting pot and come up with a definitive answer to the question of whether or not pets are good for us, what would the answer be? The answer would be … complicated. Because humans and our circumstances are so universally mixed up and complex. The simple truth is that having a pet has good and bad sides, and it may not be for everyone. Which means we have a duty to think carefully before acquiring one. We need to imagine the good times we might have with a pet and to consider the bad times, too: the insecurity, the grumpiness in old age, the infirmity.