8 Ways Having a Dog Can Save Your Life, According to Science
There are a number of health benefits to having a dog, research shows.
Need a name for your new dog? How about Doc? Pets in general, but dogs especially, may do as much for your health as your annual checkup. Not long ago, researchers reporting in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes linked dog ownership with a 24 percent lower risk of death from any cause among the general public. And heart attack survivors who live alone with a dog companion enjoyed a 33 percent lower risk of death than heart patients living alone who didn't own dogs, the researchers reported. There are so many ways dogs can make us healthier, you might start calling man's best friend "man's best medic." Read on to find out how having a dog in your life may save your tail.
"Studies show that dog owners get more physical activity, and they are more committed to a behavioral change, like diet and exercise," says Lorraine Rhodes, an environmental biologist for Dogtopia, the nation's largest dog daycare and boarding facility. For example, a study in Clinical Nursing Research found that people who walked a dog for 20 minutes a day five days a week lost an average of 14 pounds over the course of a year. Other studies suggest that dog owners who walk their dogs are much more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity than dog owners who don't walk their dogs.
Better Heart Health
Eating oatmeal and taking statins isn't the only way to lower your cholesterol—get a dog. A number of studies have explored the relationship between dog ownership and cardiovascular disease with many reporting favorable lipid profiles, lower blood pressure, diminished response to stress and other beneficial effects, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA).
Dogs are stress-busters. Studies show that the sick, elderly, and young people suffering from mood disorders who are visited by therapy dogs report improvements in mood and optimism. "Just interacting with dogs can reduce feelings of isolation and decrease symptoms of depression," says Rhodes. "Petting a dog can release those feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine."
Got kids or planning to have one? Think about starting your family with a dog. A 2018 study in PLOS One found that having pets in the home during a child's first year of life may protect that child against developing allergies and asthma.
Fewer Doctor Visits
Owning a dog may even save you some doctor bills, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, as reported in The New York Times. California researchers followed 1,000 Medicare patients and found that those who owned pets averaged 8.42 yearly doctor visits against 9.49 visits for people without pets. Dog owners went to their docs even fewer times, an average of 8.20 visits. Similar studies from other nations also noted that pet owners go to a physician's office less often than non-owners.
More Social Interaction
Dogs can be magnets for potential mates for you if you're looking to hook up. They're a great icebreaker, too. Take your dog for a walk through the neighborhood and make new friends.
A 2015 study in PLOS One by researchers from the University of Western Australia and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health surveyed 2,700 men and women in four cities and found that pet owners were 60 percent more likely than non-pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn't known before.
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Better Medication Compliance
Geriatric researchers say that the caretaking role may give senior dog owners a sense of responsibility and purpose that boosts their overall well-bring. For that reason, dog owners may be more compliant with taking their medication and other doctor recommendations. "If they have a pet at home, their concern is what will happen to them if they have to go to the hospital," says Rhodes.
With around 300 million scent receptors, dogs' noses are super smelling tools that can be tapped to tip doctors off to hidden diseases. Dogs can be trained to detect certain volatile organic compounds released by the human body that our inferior olfactory organs don't notice, such as certain cancers and maybe even COVID-19.
In one of the first studies of dogs trained to detect the virus, two dogs screened 1,689 passengers at an airport in Lebanon and found 158 cases of the coronavirus that were confirmed by PCR tests, according to a 2020 report in Nature. Dogs are also being trained to detect certain behaviors that precede worsening health conditions such as diabetes or a seizure.
"In one of our Dogtopia locations, we have a staff member who suffers from epilepsy and brings a medical alert dog to work," explains Rhodes. "Her dog was able to alert her to a seizure coming on about 20 minutes before it happened so she could get to a safe location and inform her co-workers. That dog is allowing her to live a full life without the fear of collapsing alone.