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Pets may not contribute to better health: researcher

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You get home after a rough day -- its high point being laid off, getting dumped or finding out your mom's in the hospital -- and Old Yeller charges over, panting with glee at your arrival.

Instantly, your face breaks into a smile and the day's worries subside.

This could be a PSA that suggests pets equal a longer, happier life, no?

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A new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science suggests that accepted wisdom that pets greatly improve the emotional and physical well-being of their owners is based on bunk science.

According to researcher Harold Herzog, the methodology in many pet studies is flawed. They lack large enough samples, many do not have appropriate control groups and they rely on self-reporting rather than researcher-initiated evaluation. The findings of many studies also conflict with others.

In Dr. Herzog's previous research, he found pet owners had the same and sometimes even higher levels of stress and health problems than their pet-free counterparts. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he says damning is a 2006 study, the results of which suggested "pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to suffer from sciatica, kidney disease, arthritis, migraines, panic attacks, high blood pressure and depression."

In a 20-year study, renowned psychologist Howard Friedman examined a group of 1,500 people to learn the keys to long life and health. One of the findings was that playing with pets may improve well-being, but it was not associated with a longer life. Having a solid group of friends could contribute to living longer, but dogs, cats, birds and what have you were not considered "substitutes" for friends.

How has pet ownership impacted your life -- for the better or worse?

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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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