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This analysis reviews empirical studies of the health benefits of pet ownership published between 1980 and 2016 and collected in the database of the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative, or HABRI. The analysis began with 373 titles and eventually encompassed a dataset of 151 full-text documents. Along with analysis of substantive content, each study received a score for methodological rigor. The number of studies has steadily increased, particularly since 2000, and methodological rigor has improved. The literature encompasses four topics, including cardiovascular, general, and psychosocial health, and physical activity. Overall, the research finds that pets benefit human health, although the available evidence is inconsistent. The research on dog ownership and physical activity offers the clearest benefits. These studies also received the highest scores for methodological rigor. The exercise provided by dog walking provides cardiovascular and other health benefits. Moreover, dog walking offers opportunities to build social support through interactions with other dog walkers, and the combination of pet ownership and social support appears to mediate depression and stress. The dog walking research thus has substantial public health implications, indicating the importance of further research and suggesting opportunities for involvement by the veterinary profession.


Prepared for the American Veterinarian Medical Association