Should your doctor be asking after your pet, too?
Given the importance of pets in many peoples’ lives, perhaps GPs should ask their patients if they have companion animals, and how they might be able to help improve their humans’ physical and mental health.
Making better use of “the pet effect”
Amanda Carne writes:
Research suggests that companion animal ownership is associated with a wide range of health advantages. Simply having a pet in our lives can make us physically and mentally healthier; “pets can lift our spirits and help us relax”.
Further to a previous blog by Dr Bradley Smith (“Pets, and what they do for our health” March 8, 2012), Dr Smith investigated pet ownership in more depth and has provided a brief summary of the health related aspects of companion animal ownership, suggesting ways in which GPs can integrate discussions regarding pet interaction into everyday practice to the betterment of the patient’s overall health and wellbeing.
While people keep pets mainly for companionship, recreation and/or protection, Smith proposes that companion animals can be a catalyst for GPs to engage patients in discussions about preventive health strategies by asking questions about pet ownership during routine social history taking.
By understanding the human-pet dynamic, GPs are in an ideal position to encourage patients to interact with their pets to improve their physical health (physical fitness and cardiovascular health), psychological health (through animal assisted therapy, improved mental health, and child development), as well as social health (due to the role pets can play as social enablers) – a phenomenon described as ‘the pet effect’.
This article fills a gap in the literature by discussing practical ways to integrate companion animals into health care and health promotion. Both a summary of health related aspects of companion animal ownership and recommendations on how GPs can integrate discussions about pet interaction into everyday practice are provided.
Initiating these doctor-patient conversations would allow GPs to deliver more tailored patient management and personalised lifestyle recommendations.
• Amanda Carne is Research Associate, Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (PHC RIS)
The ‘pet effect’ – health related aspects of companion animal ownership. Aust Fam Physician. 2012 Jun;41(6):439-42. PMID: 22675689 [PubMed – in process]
This article features in the 14 June 2012 edition of PHC RIS eBulletin. The eBulletin is designed to inform readers of recently published articles and reports, news items, media releases, upcoming conferences and courses, research grants, scholarships and fellowships, PHC RIS products and services and relevant websites in the primary health care field. Those interested in receiving the weekly eBulletin are invited to subscribe to the free service at http://www.phcris.org.au/mailinglists/index.php
Previous PHC RIS columns at Croakey