Loving Animals is Good for Us

As a neurologist, I’ve long held that empathy for and connection with animals is an important part of our social development. But can being with animals actually improve our well-being?

In the 1970’s researcher Erika Friedmann and her colleagues made a startling discovery. They followed 92 patients who were discharged from a Coronary Care Unit after having a heart attack or chest pain from heart disease. Their question was how does social support affect the patients’ survival at one year after discharge? The researchers found that while only 72 percent of patients without companion animals were still alive at the end of the year, 94 percent of those with animals survived.

Independent of all other factors that were studied, the presence of companion animals significantly improved survival after a cardiac event. Even social support from humans didn’t have the large effect that animals did. This was a major finding.

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