Does Your Doctor Ask About Pets? The Power of the Pet Query

When I attended the recent BlogPaws Conference in Henderson, Nevada, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating keynote session by Dr. Kate Hodgson on Zooeyia, the health benefits of pets. While it seems intuitive that pets can offer many health benefits, not many physicians actually inquire about pets when taking a patient’s history. Doing so could be very helpful to both the physician and the patient.

The Pet Query

Photo Credits: Kristin Shoemaker and Lisa Brewster

Studies have documented a number of health concerns and benefits related to pets. For example, as Hodgson has documented:

(1) Sixty-one percent of infectious diseases affecting humans can spread to animals, and 75% of new or emerging diseases around the world can spread from animals to humans or vice versa. 

(2) Physical activity (or lack of it) is a significant predictor of disease, while reducing risk factors from it saves large amounts in health care costs. Meanwhile, pet ownership tends to increase physical activity.

(3) Smoking has significant health risks, while pet ownership has been shown to encourage smokers to quit or to not smoke inside of the home when the owners are informed of the dangers of secondhand smoke to their pets.

(4) High blood pressure is a health concern that can be affected by stress. A study found that the mere presence of a pet had a significant and positive effect on their owner’s cardiovascular parameters of stress. Cat ownership in particular was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

cat face

 Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley

Based on factors such as this, Hodgson has been researching the benefits of “the pet query” by physicians. As she explained in her keynote, a majority of physicians do not ask their patients if they have pets. Yet, knowledge of that information can open the door to treatment options. For example, based on the knowledge about smoking, telling a smoker about the dangers to their pet might encourage the person to quit. Encouraging pet ownership might help with the treatment of various diseases or mental health problems. Inactive patients might also benefit from a pet.

dog walk

What stuck me the most from the keynote was a story Hodgson told about a seminar done with a group of physicians who had not previously asked patients about pets. After being educated of the benefits of adding the pet query to patient history, most began asking about pets. In one instance, a physician reported that he learned more about his patient’s life from that one question than he had ever learned over many years of treatment. It makes sense. People love to talk about their pets, and opening the door with a non-threatening conversation about animals can lead to all sorts of revelations, not just about pets, but about other aspects of the patient’s life.

The upshot is that it would be beneficial for those in human health care to use the pet query. Doing so takes little effort yet can have large rewards that can result in significant health care benefits.

You can view Hodgson’s full keynote at the BlogPaws Conference in the video below. It really is quite interesting!

Does your doctor inquire about pets?

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