The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1176: The Health Benefits of Our Relationships with Animals

Hear how kind relationships with animals enhance our well-being and theirs. Exercising empathy helps us strengthen our ability to relate to each other.
Aysha Akhtar, MD, MPH, author of Our Symphony with Animals, On Health, Empathy and our Shared Destinies.
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The Health Benefits of Our Relationships with Animals

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Can you tell what your dog is thinking? Chances are, you have a good idea much of the time. And likewise, your dog pays close attention to your expressions and behaviors to decipher your mood. What are the health implications of our relationships with animals?

Empathy Cements Our Relationships with Animals:

The capacity for empathy is not limited to humans. It is, however, critical to our ability to relate to other beings. During Hurricane Katrina, many people had to evacuate without their pets. This caused additional trauma at a time that was already stressful.

Health Benefits of Companion Animals:

You probably realize that you feel better when your cat is purring in your lap or your dog is wagging its tail in greeting. But did you know that spending time with your companion can lower your heart rate and blood pressure? Learn how empathetic kind relationships with animals, from cows, pigs and horses to cats, dogs and even mice, are vital to our well-being. They teach us how to practice empathy with other humans as well.

Life-Changing Effects of Relationships with Animals:

Many veterans who return from combat zones with PTSD have found comfort and solace through service dogs. Their relationships with animals help them cope with the challenges of returning to civilian life.

We also learn how a mobster rescued an abused street dog. That relationship turned his life around. Has your life been transformed by your relationships with animals?

This Week’s Guest:

Aysha Akhtar, MD, MPH, is double board-certified in both neurology and preventive medicine, as well as a master’s in public health.
She is the Deputy Director of the Army’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program. Previously she worked for the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats of the FDA. She is a Lieutenant Commander in the US Public Health Service, in which she deploys to assist with national public health emergencies.

Dr.Akhtar is a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and is a consultant editor for The Journal of Animal Ethics.

Dr. Akhtar is the author of Animals and Public Health, and her latest book is Our Symphony with Animals, On Health, Empathy and our Shared Destinies. Her website is

You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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How you treat animals is a good indicator of how you treat humans. A life is a life. We are all created by the same merciful father above. Always treat your animals as you would a child. God is watching.

As a practicing psychiatric nurse practitioner and also the responsible breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis since 1990, I eagerly listened to your podcast about the benefit of animals on human mental health. I agree with your guest in many ways. However I felt her excellent message about the positive effects of those relationships was marred by her bias toward her personal viewpoint of the use of dogs from “ no kill shelters “ and that the emotions that humans feel when their pets die is increased by the thoughts that they are ‘pet parents’ of “fur babies”. I can assure you that our responsibility bred -and owned, not “patented” Purebred Dogs are grieved over every bit as much as any shelter dog. Some when they die as neonates and others as beloved pensioners. PS. Several of my dogs have been Therapy Dogs, and two worked with TBI veterans at VA Hospitals. They were responsibly bred -and owned, beloved pets who added tremendously to the lives of others. Please don’t let your guests promote private agendas while sharing beneficial health information.

Having dogs insures a more active life for seniors.
You had better get up and moving or you pay the price of clean up with your older dogs.
They older I get the more I reali,e that they have the same emotions as we do. Empathy with your pets feeling s brings you closer to under standing life.

I adopted one of the cats from the local Humane Society when I was volunteering. Little did I know this little devil would help me with my PTSD. I no longer go out for errands and come back in tears with no actual trigger. Trevor seems to know my moods. Knows when I need him to start being his zany little Trevor self. I now call him my therapy cat. And the ironic thing is, Trevor had a horrible first year of life before I adopted him. I always say, who rescued who?

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