Forget an apple a day - doctors are now telling us that 'Fido' and 'Tiddles' are good for our health. Pets are good for you.
A majority of GPs (77%) canvassed for their opinion in a NOP poll by The Blue Cross animal welfare charity said they believed that owning a pet can help people stay more healthy.
Even more, people may be encouraged to go out and get a pet after they hear the full results of the GPs' survey:
84% of doctors said that exercising pets helped people keep fit and reduced the chance of heart disease and other complaints
82% thought that pets helped people relax
76% felt animal lovers' stress levels were reduced
60% believed stroking pets could lower blood pressure and heart rates
57% agreed pets could benefit people suffering from depression
44% said pets could even help people begin to recuperate after a stroke or mental breakdown
37% believed pets played a key role in helping patients recover after operations and that pets aid recovery
"I'm enormously in favor of pet ownership, especially for elderly people living alone. Pets provide unconditional love, companionship, and exercise."
"It's good to know that it's official and GPs agree with us - that pets are good for you. We have known about the health and social benefits of pet ownership for a long time," said Alan Kennard, Chief Executive of The Blue Cross. "There is a very strong bond historically between human beings and animals. It doesn't matter what age you are, companion animals help keep us fit and help make life more enjoyable."
"The Blue Cross believes in encouraging responsible pet ownership and adopts a positive approach to pet welfare issues. If pets are good for us then, of course, it makes sense that we should be good to our pets."
THE BLUE CROSS/NATIONAL OPINION POLL In total 1003 interviews - representative of all adults in telephone owning households in Great Britain - were carried out with adults aged 15 and over. The results below relate to those people surveyed who own a pet. Date: August 1999
Health and Social Benefits of Pet Ownership
89% agreed pets could help you relax
60% said stroking reduces blood pressure and heart rate
68% believed pets helped people recuperate after operations
61% thought pets can help stroke victims after a stroke
85% agreed pets reduced stress
80% believed pets help people suffering from depression
59% thought pets help people after a mental breakdown
87% said pets could save lives by alerting someone to help
96% said pets provide companionship
87% agreed pets helped people make new friends
86% believed pets help people cope with bereavement
95% agreed pets can cheer you up
96% thought pets combat loneliness
71% said that pets can be a loving substitute for children
92% agreed that pets helped people keep fit through exercise
If you've ever owned a cat a dog or a small mammal, you'll know that pet owners can reap rich rewards from their four-legged friends but pets need food, medical care, love and companionship from humans and dogs need regular exercise. If you're not in a position to give these, you should really think again.
But if you're prepared to put up with the highs and lows of pet ownership, the physical and mental health benefits you'll get in return will far outweigh any downsides.
Pets lower your stress levels Lots of studies have found that owning a pet can help you deal with stress better. Whether it's a dog that needs a walk or a cat that won't get off your lap, a pet will force you to switch off from worrying about work, paying the bills or coping with family pressures.
Unconditional love: However bad your day has been, if you own a dog, you'll have someone who thinks you're fantastic to shower you with unconditional love. Cats will love you too, although they can be less demonstrative. However, cats like to sit on your lap for long periods of time, meaning you are forced to relax. Calming effect: US research shows that pet owners have significantly lower blood pressures and heart rates than non-pet owners. Cat owners have a lower stroke risk Research by the University of Minnesota concludes that owning a cat can significantly lower your risk of suffering a stroke. They interviewed more than 4,000 patients and found the non-cat owners were 30 to 40 percent more likely to have suffered a stroke than owners of dogs and other pets.
The researchers admit they are puzzled why dog ownership doesn't appear to confer the same benefits as owning a cat.
Pets help you deal better with pain A 1995 Australian study revealed that pet owners are less likely to visit their doctors than those who don't have pets.
It could be partly due to the lower blood pressure and heart rates associated with owning a cat or a dog, but other studies have also shown that pet ownership can make you more able to deal with pain.
One Chicago University study found that stroking a dog could halve the amount of painkillers needed by a patient recovering from a joint replacement operation.
Other research has found that women coped better with the pain and fear of breast cancer if they owned a cat or a dog (the benefits were greater than if they had the support of a loving husband!). People who own a dog have also been shown to recover more quickly after surgery.
Pets can boost your mental health Pets help ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation and keep depression at bay too. Whether it's getting out to walk the dog, chatting to other dog owners or just talking to your cat at home, pets make great companions and help you feel more engaged with the world.
These health benefits even extend to owning a budgie. Researchers who studied two groups of pensioners, who were given either a pot plant or a budgie to care for, found that after two years the budgie owners were more socially engaged.
Living with a pet may cut cancer risk Pet ownership has been shown to cut the risk of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, by 30 percent, according to a study by the University of California. The longer you've lived with a cat or dog, the greater protection you have.
Dog owners get fewer coughs and colds Saliva tests on children found that those in homes with dogs had higher concentrations of an antibody called Imunnoglobin A, which helps fight off coughs and colds, and took less time off school for sickness.