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Soc Indic Res (2008) 87:481493 DOI 10.

1007/s11205-007-9142-2 ORIGINAL PAPER

Pet Dogs Benet Owners Health: A Natural Experiment in China


Bruce Headey Fu Na Richard Zheng

Accepted: 14 May 2007 / Published online: 6 June 2007 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Abstract This paper reports results from a natural experiment taking place in China on the impact of dogs on owners health. Previous Western research has reported modest health benets, but results have remained controversial. In China pets were banned in urban areas until 1992. Since then dog ownership has grown quite rapidly in the major cities, especially among younger women. In these quasi-experimental conditions, we hypothesise that dog ownership will show greater health benets than in the West. Results are given from a survey of women aged 2540 in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (N = 3031). Half the respondents owned dogs and half did not. Owners reported better health-related outcomes. They exercised more frequently, slept better, had higher selfreported tness and health, took fewer days off sick from work and were seen less by doctors. The concluding section indicates how these results may be integrated and suggests further research on the potential economic benets of pets. Keywords Pets Health China Natural experiment

A natural experiment on the effects of pet dogs on human health has been taking place in China. A natural experiment occurs when events conspire to test a scientic hypothesis in a real world, non-experimental setting. In China pets were effectively banned until 1992. Since then dog ownership has increased quite rapidly in the larger cities and has now reached about 10% of households. This quite rapid development provides a unique research opportunity to assess the impact of pet dogs on owners health. Previous research in Western countries has shown statistically signicant but quite modest effects of dog and cat ownership on health. But in the West pet dogs and cats have

B. Headey (&) University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic 3052, Australia e-mail: b.headey@unimelb.edu.au F. Na R. Zheng Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

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been around for centuries and many families have long histories of ownership. This makes it difcult to assess whether pets actually cause better health, or whether apparent benets are wholly or partly due to decisions by healthier individuals and families to self-select into pet ownership. In Chinese cities the relatively sudden and rapid introduction of pet dogs means that, if pets benet human health, then researchers would expect to nd particularly strong effectsstatistically stronger effects than in the West. In seeking to research these impacts, we have focussed on large cities and on the demographic groupyounger womenwho form the largest subset of dog owners and who, as we shall see, are particularly closely attached to their pets. It is precisely this group among whom one would expect health benets to register most strongly. Essentially then, the paper compares the health and well-being of women aged 2540 who have already acquired pet dogs with a control group of women of the same age who have not taken on dog ownership. We now review previous research on the claimed health benets of pets, before giving more information about the methods and results of the current study. The rst wave of research on pets and human health consisted of small-scale interventions in which specic groups of (mainly) older and institutionalised people were given a pet in the hope or expectation of benets to their health and/or psychological well-being. Many positive results were reported, but from a methodological standpoint there was a concern that many participants may have known or suspected that the aim was to improve their well-being and this could have affected their responses in evaluation surveys (Garrity and Stallones 1998; Robb and Stegman 1983). An apparent breakthrough was made by Friedmann et al. (1980) who found that patients who owned dogs were far less likely to die in the year following a heart attack than patients with no pet to go home to. The methods used in this study were criticised by Wright and Moore (1982) but it has since been replicated on a larger scale and the nding seems fairly well established (Friedmann and Thomas 1995). A landmark British study by Serpell (1991) showed that people who had not recently owned a dog or cat and then acquired one, or were given one by the researchers, showed improvements over the next ten months in their health, psychological well-being, selfesteem and exercise levels; this compared with a control group who did not get a pet. Results were clearly statistically signicant, but the study has not yet been replicated and is open to the previously mentioned criticism that some participants may well have guessed that they were given a pet to improve their health. This last objection cannot be levelled at Siegels (1990) study of 938 American Medicaid enrollees, some of whom owned pets and some did not. During the follow-up period it was found that pet owners were less distressed by adverse life events and made fewer doctor visits. Similarly, Raina et al. (1998) found that elderly people who had pets declined less in physical and mental health in a one-year period than a matched group without pets. Those who were closely attached to their pet recorded better outcomes than those less closely attached. However, in this study the people who had pets were somewhat healthier than non-owners when the research began, and this casts some doubt over results. There have been several investigations of physiological response to the presence of pets. The most promising of these, conducted in Japan, showed that elderly peoples stress levels, measured by changes in autonomic nervous activity, were substantially lower when walking a dog than when walking alone (Matooka et al. 2006). In fact, simply being in a room with a friendly dog also reduced stress. More generally, research on the effects of pet therapy has indicated that interaction with pets reduces depressive symptoms and lowers blood pressure (Allen and Blascovich 1991; Allen et al. 2002; Stasi et al. 2004).

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Indeed, having a pet dog in the room appears to lower blood pressure more effectively than ace inhibitor therapy (Allen and Shykoff 2001). However, this result was not replicated in a study in which stranger dogs were introduced to participants in an experimental setting (Kingwell et al. 2001). In this context, it is relevant that there is some evidence that companion animals are a form of both bonding and bridging social capital; that is, they bond closely with their owners and provide links or bridges to other potential friends (Wood et al. 2005). Social capital, in turn, is linked to better health (Putnam 2000). But if an animal is a stranger, and an experimental setting provides a strange environment, then benets are presumably less likely. However, that does not mean they can never occur. The Japanese study reported above involved introducing stranger dogs to elderly participants. Research in Australia and Germany has provided evidence from large cross-sectional surveys (analogous to epidemiological surveys in the medical literature). Comparing pet owners and non-owners, these studies appeared to show that owners have better health, as indicated by fewer visits to general practitioners and other doctors (Headey 1999; Headey et al. 2002). However, the cross-sectional design made it impossible to be certain whether owners enjoyed better health as a consequence of having a pet, or whether people who were healthier in the rst place tended to acquire pets. The issue remained controversial in part because several studies found no relationship between pet ownership and general health, or concluded that the sequence might be that people who already enjoy good health are more likely to get pets (Beck and Katcher 1984; Jorm et al. 1997; Ory and Goldberg 1983; Parslow and Jorm 2003; Robb and Stegman 1983). However, these studies were limited to small samples or to local area populations rather than applying to nation-wide samples. The key issue of causal directiondo pets cause better health, or do healthy people acquire pets?has recently been addressed in German and Australian longitudinal surveys (Headey et al. 2002; Headey and Grabka 2007). The German evidence is particularly strong. In 2001 the same panel of German respondents (N = 9723), who had previously answered in 1996, were again asked about pet ownership, health and doctor visits, and in the intervening period many had gained and many had lost a pet. The main ndings were that people who continuously owned a pet between 1996 and 2001 were the healthiest group, as indicated by fewest doctor visits, and that those who acquired a pet between 1996 and 2001 showed signicant gains in health.1 The natural experiment reported in this paper offers an important new type of evidence. An experiment requires a clean break with the past. Potential participants who have previously received similar treatments are normally rejected for an experiment, because of the possible confounding effects of those previous treatments. Following this analogy, pet owners who have a family history of pet ownership are not ideal participants for assessing potential health benets. In China, the fact that pets were effectively banned in cities before 1992 means that new owners are almost ideal participants. As noted above, we would expect the benets of new pets to be measurably larger than in the West, where most owners probably have a family history and childhood of ownership. However, even the Chinese participants are only almost ideal. Plainly, they are selfselected pet owners rather than having been recipients of randomly allocated pets, as a more pure or laboratory-style experiment would require. So it remains a risk that unobserved differences (unobserved heterogeneity) between owners and non-owners could contaminate results. As explained in the Methods section, we tried to reduce the risk by
1

All results were net of gender, age, income and self-assessed health status in 1996.

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undertaking research on a relatively homogenous group (younger women), by including a large comparison group/control group of non-owners, and by controlling statistically for many variables usually associated with health status. In pilot studies we found that women aged 2540 were the largest demographic group of dog owners and also reported that they were the main carers of their pet and were closely attached to it (Fu Na and Zheng 2003). The pilot study provided the basis for focussing the current research on younger women.

1 Hypotheses The rst six hypotheses set out below compare the health-related outcomes of dog owners with outcomes for non-owners. The nal hypothesis makes comparisons within the group of owners. Hypothesis 1 Dog owners take more regular exercise than non-owners. Hypothesis 2 Dog owners have better self-reported physical tness than non-owners. Hypothesis 3 Dog owners have better self-reported health than non-owners. Hypothesis 4 Dog owners sleep better than non-owners. Hypothesis 5 Dog owners take fewer days off sick from work than non-owners. Hypothesis 6 Dog owners make fewer doctor visits than non-owners. Hypothesis 7 Dog owners who are closely attached to their pets report better healthrelated outcomes (the six outcomes above) than owners who are not closely attached. All these hypotheses, except the fourth and fth, are directly drawn from previous research in Western countries. Hypothesis 4 about pet owners sleeping better was included in order to try and better understand the mechanisms by which dog ownership may improve health. Serpell (1991) found that dog owners exercise more (at least partly due to walking the dog), so it was thought they might sleep better too. Hypothesis 5 about dog owners taking fewer days off sick from work was included because this is a practical outcome that might be expected to occur if it really is the case that ownership confers health benets. It also of interest because of potential national economic benets due to ownership.

2 Methods 2.1 Data: Survey of Dog Owners and Non-owners: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou 2005 A sample survey of 2540-year-old women, 50% of whom owned dogs and 50% of whom did not, was undertaken in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in mid-2005. The sample size was 3031. Of these 1516 were dog owners and 1515 were non-owners. Just over 1000

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respondents lived in each of the three cities. Survey questions were designed by the authors and the survey was then conducted by telephone by CVI, a subsidiary of China Television. Ethical clearance was given by Beijing Normal University. Respondents were obtained by random digit dialling, using the research companys established procedures. Their participation was of course voluntary. The reasons for selecting a sample of younger women in major cities were that a pilot study had shown that they are (a) the demographic group with the highest rate of dog ownership and (b) almost invariably the main carers of the family dog and very closely attached to it. It therefore seemed plausible that, if dogs benet their owners health, these younger women would be prime beneciaries. Also, from the point of view of a natural experiment, it was desirable to have a relatively homogenous sample in order to avoid results being less reliable due to both observed and unobserved sample heterogeneity. Detailed comparisons between the samples of dog owners and non-owners showed them to be closely matched. The mean age of both groups was exactly 32.5 years. 79.8% of the owner group worked full-time, compared with 77.9% of the non-owner group. The nonowner group had a slightly higher average educational level and its average income was towards the top of the RMB 4011000 range, whereas owners incomes were near the bottom of this range. Almost exactly one third of owners and non-owners came from each of the cities.

2.2 Measurement In order to avoid any possible bias that might have arisen from stating that the interviews being about the benign subject of pets, respondents were initially told that the survey was about lifestyle issues. The opening question then asked which of the following the respondents household owned: a computer, a house plant, a dog and a home theatre. Then followed a series of questions about exercise and health. All these were completed before those respondents who owned a dog were asked specic questions about their pet, who cared for it, how attached they were to it and so on. Six main health related questions provided the dependent (outcome) variables in this paper. The rst dealt with frequency of exercising for 20 min or more continuously, asked on a 6 point scale where point 1 was labelled every day and point 6 was less than once a month.2 For analysis purposes, a variable labelled exercise frequency per week was constructed by interpolating a frequency for each scale point.3 Then came a question about the exact number of times respondents had been seen by a doctor in the last three months. Then the survey asked about the number of days respondents had been off sick from work in the last year, and also about how many nights they had slept badly in the last month.4 The two remaining health questions asked for a self-rating of health on a 15 scale running from very good to very poor, then a self-rating of physical tness on the same scale. The self-rated health question has been asked in surveys all over the world and is found to correlate well with medical assessments (Schwarze et al. 2000).

It should be noted that this exercise question did not refer to walking the dog and was asked before petspecic questions were raised. For example, point 3 on the scale was exercises 12 times each week. A mid-point of 1.5 was interpolated. As for the exercise question, frequencies were interpolated at scale mid-points for these two questions.

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Table 1 Ordinal correlations (Spearmans rho) between dog ownership and health-related outcomes: Women 2540 (N = 3031) Health-related outcome Exercise frequency per week Correlation with dog ownership 0.19*** Health-related outcome Correlation with dog ownership

Frequency of sleeping badly in 0.17*** last month Days off sick from work in last 0.13*** year N times seen by doctor in last 3 months 0.14***

Self-rated tness (15 0.18*** scale) Self-rated health (15 0.15*** scale) *** Signicant at 0.001 level

Strength of attachment to ones dog was measured by Raina et al.s (1998) pet attachment scale. This simply requires owners to say how closely attached they are to their pet on a 010 response scale (not at all attached = 0, strongly attached = 10). Other standard variables which are generally found to be associated with health, including age, educational attainment and income, were included in equations intended to assess the potential benets of dog ownership. They served primarily as controls; that is, the aim was to assess the effects of dog ownership on health, net of other variables which may also be implicated. Also included in these equations was a variable based on asking respondents whether they had a serious health disability, since a disability would be likely to account for some variance in all of the dependent variables in the study.

2.3 Data Analysis None of the six health-related dependent variables comes close to being normally distributed, so ordinary least squares (OLS) regression analysis is not appropriate. The variables relating to self-rated health and tness are ordinal, so ordinal scale regression is required. The variables relating to frequency of exercise, doctor visits, sleeping badly and days off sick from work are all count variables on which quite a lot of respondents scored zero (never exercised, zero doctor visits etc) and a few had very large scores (exercised every day, over 50 doctor visits in the last three months etc). Technically, these variables have a Poisson distribution. More precisely, all but the exercise variable have variances larger than their means (over-dispersion) and so are negative binomial distributions.5 So the appropriate analytic techniques are Poisson and negative binomial regression (Winkelmann 2000).

3 Results Table 1 reports correlations between dog ownership (owner = 1, non-owner = 0) and the six health-related outcomes. It is clear that, within this demographic group, owning a dog is positively associated with taking more exercise and with feeling tter and healthier. By the same token dog

A negative binomial is one specic type of Poisson distribution.

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owners are less likely to sleep badly at night, they take fewer days off sick from work and they are seen less often by doctors. Clearly, the signicant correlations in Table 1 could be misleading. Good health depends on many variables; variables which could also be associated with dog ownership and so might render the apparent association between ownership and health spurious. Tables 2 and 3 report regression results which can be viewed as showing the net effects of dog ownership on health outcomes, controlling for eight sets of variables which may also affect these outcomes. These variables are age and its quadratic, marital status (10), educational attainment (7 levels), occupational categories (10 categories), employment status (6 categories), individual income (12 bands),6 city (Beijing, Shanghai, Ghuangzhou) and disability status (1-0). The coefcients given for the Poisson regression relating to frequency of exercise per week are incidence rate ratios.7 These have a particularly clear interpretation for dummy variables like dog ownership, where they show the ratio of exercise taken by owners compared to non-owners (in this instance the ratio is 1.36 to 1; that is, dog owners take 36% more exercise per week). It is clear from Table 2 that dog ownership is quite strongly related to taking more frequent exercise and to feeling tter and healthier. All three coefcients between dog ownership and these health-related outcomes are statistically signicant at the 0.001 level. On average, as noted above, owners exercise 36% more per week than non-owners. They also rate their tness signicantly (at the 0.001 level) higher than non-owners on the 15 tness and health scales. All these relationships hold net of (controlling for) other variables which may affect health, including marital status, educational level and income. In fact, within this relatively homogeneous group of urban women in the 2540-age range, dog ownership could be described as the single strongest factor inuencing health outcomes. It has a stronger positive effect on all three outcomes than any other variable listed.8 Table 3 now shows linkages between dog ownership and three adverse health outcomes: sleeping badly, days off sick from work, and number of doctor visits in the last three months. In these negative binomial regressions the coefcients are again incidence rate ratios. Again, all three relationships are in line with our hypotheses. Dog owners suffer fewer nights of bad sleep, they are less frequently away from work due to sickness, and they are seen less by doctors. The three coefcients linking dog ownership to health outcomes are signicant at the 0.001 level. Further, the impact of the dog ownership is quite substantial. Owners had only 54% of the number of nights of bad sleep per month as were suffered by non-owners. They took less than half the number of sick days off work than did nonowners, and had been to the doctor fewer than half the number of times in the last three months. This last result is particularly interesting. As discussed in the concluding section of the paper, a rate of close to three fewer doctor visits per year by dog owners, compared with non-owners, may mean that pet dogs indirectly contribute to substantial savings in the health system.

Individual income correlated more highly with health outcomes than household income. It was measured in 12 bands; the mid-point of each band was interpolated. The coefcients from the ordered probits cannot be given any straightforward interpretation beyond noting their sign and level of signicance (Greene 2000, pp. 877878). Being an agricultural worker is strongly negatively related to exercise, and having a health disability is, not surprisingly, strongly negatively related to tness and health.

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Table 2 Effects of dog ownership on exercise, tness and health for women aged 2540: Poisson and ordinal (ordered probit) regressions Exercise frequency per week (Poisson) Dog owner (owner = 1, nonowner = 0) Age Age squared/100 Marital status Less than junior high school (ref: completed junior high school) Vocational education Completed high school College University Postgraduate Agricultural employment (ref: industrial worker) Military Technician Manager Businessperson Hospitality Owner-manager Job retraining Other occupation Works full-time (ref: not in labour force) Works part-time Unemployed Retired Student Individual income Lives in Beijing (ref: Lives in Guangzhou) Lives in Shanghai Health disability LR v2 Prob. Pseudo R2 N * Signicant at 0.05 level ** Signicant at 0.01 level *** Signicant at 0.001 level 1.36*** 1.01 1.00 1.21*** 0.78** 0.96 1.15*** 1.05 0.94 0.97 0.41*** 1.27 1.05 1.00 0.99 1.00 0.85*** 1.16* 1.18 0.89* 0.99 0.86** 0.93 1.23 1.01 1.20*** 0.78*** 1.10* 901.09 0.0001 5.52% 2901 Self-rated tness (1 5) (ordered probit) 0.36*** 0.06 0.10 0.03 0.00 0.01 0.03 0.05 0.07 0.10 0.36 0.55 0.04 0.08 0.10 0.07 0.04 0.16 0.18 0.27* 0.30* 0.01 0.42 0.07 0.01 0.05 0.07 0.38*** 154.61 0.0001 2.21% 2901 Self-rated health (1 5) (ordered probit) 0.32*** 0.06 0.08 0.02 0.04 0.12 0.03 0.04 0.01 0.14 0.04 0.76 0.04 0.08 0.10 0.08 0.02 0.06 0.55 0.12 0.21 0.11 0.14 0.26 0.01 0.06 0.05 0.52*** 145.58 0.0001 2.18% 2901

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Table 3 Effects of dog ownership on sleep, days off sick from work and doctor visits for women aged 25 40: Negative binomial regressions Sleep badly in Days off sick from last month work in last year Dog owner (owner = 1, nonowner = 0) Age Age squared/100 Marital status Less than junior high school (ref: completed junior high school) Vocational education Completed high school College University Postgraduate Agricultural employment (ref: industrial worker) Military Technician Manager Businessperson Hospitality Owner-manager Job retraining Other occupation Works full-time (ref: not in labour force) Works part-time Unemployed Retired Student Individual income Lives in Beijing (ref: Lives in Guangzhou) Lives in Shanghai Health disability LR Chi square Prob. Pseudo R2 N * Signicant at 0.05 level ** Signicant at 0.01 level *** Signicant at 0.001 level n.a. Military omitted because none took any sick days 0.54*** 0.78 1.43 0.85 1.02 0.79 0.86 0.77 0.80 0.58 1.08 1.45 1.23 1.10 1.01 0.97 0.89 0.36*** 0.25 0.52** 0.39*** 1.02 1.48 0.30* 1.07* 1.27* 1.10 1.92*** 159.96 0.0001 1.54% 2901 0.49*** 0.38*** 4.18*** 1.38 3.60* 0.54 0.76 0.93 0.79 0.29* 0.18* n.a. 0.65 0.46* 0.46* 0.42** 0.50* 0.47 0.03* 0.74 0.75 0.66 0.21 0.29 1.24*** 1.20 1.09 3.72*** 147.17 0.0001 2.22% 2766 N times seen by doctor in last 3 months 0.48*** 0.88 1.21 1.05 1.35 1.18 0.98 1.49* 1.81** 1,17 0.24 1.01 0.77 0.84 0.54*** 0.88 0.58* 1.05 0.52 1.07 0.65 1.22 4.83** 1.09 1.09* 0.59*** 0.75** 3.06*** 237.36 0.0001 4.12% 2901

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Table 4 Effects of Strength of Attachment to Ones Dog on Health-Related Outcomes for Women aged 2540: Poisson, Negative Binomial and Ordinal (ordered probit) Regressionsa Exercise Fitness Health Sleep badly Days off work sick 0.86*** 0.54** 2.58** 0.95 1.14 0.88 0.83 0.96 0.88 0.49 0.31 0.91 1.00 0.75 0.76 0.76 0.66 0.27** 0.25 0.22*** 0.15*** 0.51 0.53 0.08** 1.29*** 1.04 1.18 0.99 101.25 0.0001 2.31% 1468 1.03 0.33** 5.42** 1.52 2.04 0.28* 0.29** 0.43 0.51 0.06 0.07 n.a. 0.76 0.78 0.48 0.39 0.87 0.45 n.a. 0.39 0.43 0.24 n.a. 0.30 1.37* 0.90 1.18 7.55** 85.37 0.0001 3.19% 1415 Times seen by doctor 0.90** 0.83 1.34 1.04 0.52 0.54 0.55* 0.72 1.05 0.41 0.37 0.51 0.45** 0.99 0.47** 1.19 0.84 0.86 n.a. 0.83 0.67 1.86 6.93** 0.72 1.18** 0.38*** 0.86 2.74** 117.89 0.0001 5.27% 1468

Attachment to dog (010 scale) Age Age squared/100 Marital status Less than junior high schoolb Vocational education Completed high school College University Postgraduate Agricultural employmentb Military Technician Manager Businessperson Hospitality Owner-manager Job retraining Other occupation Works full-timeb Works part-time Unemployed Retired Student Individual income Lives in Beijingb Lives in Shanghai Health disability Chi square Prob. Pseudo R2 N

1.05*** 1.11* 0.86* 1.21*** 0.79 0.94 1.05 0.95 0.78*** 0.94 0.10*** 1.23 1.05 1.00 0.93 0.97 0.82*** 1.17* 1.93* 0.91 0.99 0.85* 0.94 1.64* 1.04*** 1.15*** 0.63*** 1.28** 763.72 0.0001 9.40% 1468

0.09*** 0.17 0.29 0.07 0.01 0.04 0.02 0.07 0.14 0.74 1.14** n.a. 0.09 0.07 0.18 0.03 0.14 0.08 0.14 0.55** 0.73*** 0.35 1.14** 0.36 0.02 0.05 0.18* 0.01 105.32 0.0001 3.17% 1468

0.09*** 0.07 0.11 0.14 0.19 0.01 0.08 0.14 0.12 0.64 0.04 1.61* 0.02 0.13 0.23 0.11 0.05 0.19 0.33 0.34* 0.56** 0.06 0.68 0.67 0.00 0.13 0.03 0.07 97.66 0.0001 3.02% 1468

* Signicant at 0.05 level ** Signicant at 0.01 level *** Signicant at 0.001 level
a b

The choice of regression technique hinges on the dependent variable; see Tables 2 and 3 Reference categories for dummy variables as in Tables 3 and 4

n.a. Category omitted because of lack of variation in tness/sick days/doctor visits by pet owners

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Our nal hypothesis is that owners who are closely attached to their dogs enjoy better health outcomes than those who are less closely attached. After inspecting the distribution of the pet attachment variable, this hypothesis looked unpromising. There was little variation in that only 7% of owners gave a rating of 5 or less on the 010 attachment scale. Despite the lack of variation, Table 4 shows that it was still the case that attachment to ones dog was signicantly related to ve of the six health-related outcomes. Relationships with exercise, tness, health and (not) sleeping badly were signicant at the 0.001 level and the relationship with doctor visits was signicant at 0.01. Only number of days off sick from work was unrelated to pet attachment.

4 Discussion The main nding reported here is that a natural experiment taking place in China on the relationship between dog ownership and better health yielded very positive results. The linkage between dog ownership and better health outcomes is stronger in China, where pet dogs were only permitted after 1992, than in the West where they have been in families for centuries. The main health difference reported in national representative surveys in the Westspecically for Australia and Germanyis that pet owners make 1015% fewer doctor visits per year than non-owners (Headey 1999; Headey and Grabka 2007). In China urban women aged 2540 who are dog owners make less than half the number of doctor visits made by non-owners, and average 2.92 fewer visits per year (0.73 in the three months prior to interview). An important next step in this research is to try and gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms by which dog ownership may improve health. An intuitively plausible way to link the ndings reported here is shown in Fig. 1. It seems reasonable to suggest that the rst link in this health chain, after getting a dog, is taking more exercise and enjoying more companionship (as measured by the pet attachment scale). Taking more exercise may then enable one to sleep better at night, which in turn would lead to better self-reported tness and health. It is also possible that increased companionship also leads to enhanced feelings of health and well-being (Wood

More exercise

Sleeps better

Feels fitter

Fewer days off sick from work

Dog ownership More companionship (attachment) Feels healthier Fewer doctor visits

Fig. 1 Dog ownership and better health: Plausible linkages

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et al. 2005). Then, since dog owners feel tter and healthier, they are then less likely to need to take time off sick from work, or to see a doctor. It should be emphasized that this account, while hopefully plausible, is speculative. With only cross-sectional data available, it is not possible to establish the temporal and hence causal sequences linking these variables, so any attempt to estimate coefcients for the paths shown in Fig. 1 would be premature. In future research it may be possible to obtain panel (longitudinal) data, which would increase the potential to estimate causal links. So far the research has been limited to assessing health benets for younger women in the largest metropolitan areas. An obvious extension would be to see if similar results are obtained for men, for other age groups and for other city dwellers.9 However, in following this line of inquiry, it would be essential to establish who in respondent households mainly cared for the family pet and who was closely attached to it. One would hypothesise that health benets would only (or mainly) accrue to family members who regularly and positively interacted with the pet. A nal fascinating issue concerns the potential economic benets due to pet dogs. We have found in the present sample that dog owners go to the doctor about three times a year less often than non-owners, and also take fewer sick days off work. Plainly, medical care and days of missed work cost money. In the next wave of this research, it may well prove possible to make estimates of the economic benets of pet dogs, not just to their owners, but to the community at large.10 References
Allen, K. M., & Blascovich, J. (1991). Presence of human friends and pet dogs as moderators of autonomic responses to stress in women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 582589. Allen, K. M., & Shykoff, B. E. (2001). Pet ownership, but not ace inhibitor therapy, blunts human blood pressure responses to mental stress. Hypertension, 38, 815820. Allen, K. M., Blascovich, J., & Mendes, W. B. (2002). Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs. Psychological Medicine, 64, 727739. Beck, A. M., & Katcher, A. H. (1984). A new look at pet-facilitated psychotherapy. Journal of the American Veterinary Association, 184, 414421. Friedmann, E., Katcher, A. H., Lynch, J. J., & Thomas, S. A. (1980). Animal companions and one year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit. Public Health Reports, 95, 307312. Friedmann, E., & Thomas, S. A. (1995) Pet ownership, social support and one year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the cardiac arrhythmic suppression trial, CAST. American Journal of Cardiology, 76, 12131217. Fu, Na, & Zheng, R. (2003). Inuences of pet ownership on the empty nester family. Chinese Mental Health Journal, 17, 3139. Garrity, T. F., & Stallones, L. (1998). Effects of pet contact on human well-being: review of recent research. In C. C. Wilson, & D. C. Turner (Eds.), Companion animals in human health (pp. 322). London: Sage. Greene, W. H. (2000) Econometric analysis (4th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Headey, B. W. (1999). Health benets and health cost savings due to pets: preliminary estimates from an Australian National Survey. Social Indicators Research, 47, 233243. Headey, B. W., Grabka, M., Kelley, J., Reddy, P., & Tseng, Y.-P. (2002). Pet ownership is good for your health and saves public expenditure too: Australian and German longitudinal evidence. Australian Social Monitor, 9399. Headey, B. W., & Grabka, M. (2007). Pets and human health in Germany and Australia: national longitudinal results. Social Indicators Research, 80, 297311.
9

Including Chinese rural people is not a sensible option at present, given that dogs in rural areas are not generally viewed as pets.

10 Some tentative estimates have been made for Australia and Germany based on fewer annual doctor visits by pet owners compared to non-owners (Headey 1999; Headey et al. 2002).

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