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Pets: Millennia together

Dogs, cats and birds have lived alongside humans for thousands of years. Our interconnected lives offer physical and psychological benefits, as well as some risks.

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A world of companion animals

Pet preference varies from country to country. In one poll* of 22 nations1, more than half of those surveyed reported owning at least one pet.

Credit: Nature publications remain neutral with regard to contested jurisdictional claims in published maps

Threats to pet health

Different ailments strike early and late in a pet’s life. Older dogs often have tumours, whereas older cats are treated for chronic kidney disease, according to US data from 2.5 million dogs and 500,000 cats8.

A shifting landscape

Diabetes is nearly three times more common in cats than it is in dogs. Over the past 10 years, the prevalence of diabetes in dogs has increased by 79.7% and in cats by 18%8.

Parasitic protection

Incidence of the potentially fatal parasitic infection heartworm in dogs has fallen since 2011, owing to the use of preventative drugs8.

Mixed blessings

Numerous studies have documented the many benefi¬ts of owning a pet, but allergies, bites and disease can mean that animals are not always good for our health.


1. Pet Ownership Global GfK Survey

2. Euromonitor International

3. Bradley, T. & King, R. The Atlantic (2012).


5. Nationwide

6. American Pet Products Association

7. World Health Organization

8. Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2016 Report

9. Nagasawa, M. et al. Science 348, 333–336 (2015).

10. Reeves, M. J. et al. J. Phys. Act. Health 8, 436–444 (2011).

11. Allen, K., Blascovich, J. & Mendes, W. B. Psychosom. Med. 64, 727–739 (2002).

12. Stanley, I. H., Conwell, Y., Bowen, C. & Van Orden, K. A. Aging Ment. Health 18, 394–399 (2014).

13. Wegienka, G. et al. Clin. Exp. Allergy 41, 979–986 (2011).

14. Hampson, K. et al. PLoS Negl. Trop. Dis. 9, e0003709 (2015).

15. Salo, P. M. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 134, 350–359 (2014).

16. Bosch, S., Tauxe, R. V. & Behravesh, C. Emer. Infect. Dis. 22, 1149–1155 (2016).

Credit: Nature publications remain neutral with regard to contested jurisdictional claims in published maps
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Related external links

State of pet health report 2016

World Health Organization page on rabies

The benefits of pets for human health

The dog index: what man's best friend tells us about global economic development

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Mestel, R. Pets: Millennia together. Nature 543, S42–S43 (2017).

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