Loneliness and Health: The importance of animal companionship

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David Tener, DC

Loneliness is a significant source of disease. Even when surrounded by people, many of us find ourselves lacking others we can relate to in a significant fashion. Next to rest and sleep, a lack companionship is one of our biggest deficiencies and one that is commonly overlooked as a source of chronic illness.

A recent survey of over 3,000 U.S. adults conducted by the AARP revealed that over 1/3 of respondents are lonely, and that loneliness is a significant factor in poor health. (http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/general/2012/loneliness_2010.pdf)

The desire for companionship is natural and if not fulfilled over time can lead to a host of mental and physical problems. It is common to find people with eating disorders, alcoholism and a host of other health related issues that stem from a lack of companionship. Research has shown that loneliness is a significant risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease, Immune Dysfunction, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dementia. 

Despite such strong correlations, physicians often overlook loneliness as a contributing factor in the onset of disease. Perhaps it is because of the time required to identify such a problem and the inability to solve it with the prescription of a pill, a special diet or the cut of a knife. It is only after spending ample time getting to know a patient that emotional and social factors can be explored and strategies can be implemented to address them. 

An Outstanding Solution: Companion Pets

At the Goldberg Clinic we hold a special place in our hearts for our animal companions.  Perhaps it is because Dr. Goldberg and I have four dogs and three kitties between us and can personally attest to the joys we experience when interacting with our own companion pets. Having recommended companion animals to many of our patients over the years, we have seen first hand the positive effects they have on overall heath and wellbeing:

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The companionship pets offer is especially beneficial. The bond that forms between a person and a companion pet can be incredibly fulfilling, and serves in many ways as an important and rewarding relationship.  

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

“The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment.”

Numerous studies highlight the physiological, psychological and social benefits of pet companionship. Animal interaction has been demonstrated to reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression, improve cardiovascular health, reduce allergy and asthma....all resulting in fewer doctors visits per year.(1) The benefits shown are especially significant in vulnerable individuals. Individuals who visit health care professionals are especially sensitive due to illness and the effects illness can have on the quality of their life. It is therefore important for health care professionals to support the important role of animal companionship in their patient’s lives.   

1.  http://www.pawssf.org/document.doc?id=15 

If you're in the market for an animal companion, we suggest visiting your local animal shelter to find just the right match for you. If you are located in Georgia, we recommend visiting the Homeless Pets Foundation in Atlanta at http://www.homelesspets.com/ . If you are not in a position to adopt, many pet shelters and humane societies are actively looking for volunteers and donations to help care for the animals. 

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The Goldberg Clinic has teamed up with the Homeless Pets Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. The "Goldberg Clinic Animal Alliance" is an organization that will sponsor a new homeless pet every month and asks for your support in finding each one its forever home!  

This month the Goldberg Clinic Animal Alliance will sponsor Chassis. Despite a missing leg, Chassis has a solid frame. Chassis was adopted from Homeless Pets 8 years ago when she was a wee pup, but her owner was forced to return her after losing his job and home. Chassis is a shepherd mix who loves the company of humans. For more info email adoptions@homelesspets.com or call 770-971-0100. Or, fill out an adoption application found at www.homelesspets.com/adoption-form. 

Success: A home for Marley!

Dr. Tener found this sweet girl alone and abandoned at a local dog park. Thank you to everyone who donated money to help save her.  A special thanks to Eryn Eberlein and the Homeless Pets Foundation for all their effort and support in caring for Marley and finding her a forever home.