Just What the Doctor Ordered

A recent study from the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation reveals that 97 percent of doctors believe there are health benefits to owning a pet.


Here’s some great news for pet owners—those furry, finned and winged animals they have been living with can actually help in healing. In a survey conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) this past August, we found that doctors are increasingly recognizing the many healing powers of pets and are even willing to prescribe pets to patients for a multitude of health issues. There is a wealth of information and thousands of research articles supporting the health benefits of pets, but this is the first time we are hearing it from doctors themselves, which is a huge milestone and exciting news.

HABRI commissioned a first-of-its-kind survey of 1,000 family doctors and general practitioners to explore their knowledge, attitudes and behavior regarding the human health benefits of having pets. The results were impressive. We now know doctors and their patients widely understand the health benefits of owning pets, and they are putting that understanding into practice.

Here are a few key findings from the survey:

Most doctors have successfully worked with animals in medicine.
Sixty-nine percent have worked with them in a hospital, medical center, or medical practice to assist patient therapy or treatment. They report interactions with animals improve patients’ physical condition (88 percent), mental health condition (97 percent), mood or outlook (98 percent), and relationships with staff (76 percent).

Doctors overwhelmingly believe there are health benefits to owning pets.
Ninety-seven percent reported that they believe there were health benefits that resulted from owning a pet.
The majority of doctors have recommended a pet to a patient.

Sixty percent of doctors interviewed have recommended getting a pet to a patient. Forty-three percent recommended the pet to improve overall health, and 17 percent made the recommendation for a specific condition.

Most doctors have seen their patients’ health improve as a result of pet ownership.
Seventy-five percent of physicians said they saw one or more of their patients overall health improve, and 87 percent said their patients’ mood or outlook improved. 

Doctors are willing to prescribe pets.
Seventy-four percent of doctors said they would prescribe a pet to improve overall health if the medical evidence supported it, and eight percent said they would prescribe a pet for a specific condition.

The science shows that pets can help with a wide range of health conditions—from heart health to depression to PTSD—and we hope that this survey will help break down the barriers and get more doctors and their patients talking about the important, scientifically validated health benefits of pets.

Thanks to all of our wonderful supporters, HABRI is able to advance research and ultimately help more individuals, families and communities enjoy the health benefits that pets bring into their lives. With their help, HABRI makes annual research grants to fund studies on the health effects of animals on humans in categories including child health and development; healthy aging; and mental health and wellness. We look forward to more scientific advancements in 2015. 

To help generate greater awareness, ask your doctor about the impact of pets on patient health. Now you won’t be surprised to know how supportive they already are.

Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, a non-profit research and education organization that is gathering, funding and sharing the scientific research that demonstrates the positive health impacts of animals on people.

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