It has long been known that living with dogs is good for our health and our happiness. There’s nothing like the greeting you get from your dog when you come home from a long day at the office … or from the five minutes or less it takes you to pick up your mail. They will snuggle up on the couch while you watch your favorite TV show, accompany you on neighborhood walks and keep you warm all night spooned into the small of your back.
And while owners everywhere know that dogs make life better, there’s scientific evidence that living with pups makes us healthier.
Here are 10 ways that a dog keeps the doctor away.
1. Dogs Improve Our Mood
Scientists have discovered that living with dogs can improve our moods and nurture good mental health. Studies conducted by researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, a professor of psychology at Miami University, along with others, found that “People reported less depression, less loneliness, greater self-esteem, greater subjective happiness, and less perceived stress,” when they regularly interact with dogs.
2. Dogs are Beneficial for a Healthy Heart
Living with or spending time with a dog can actually reduce your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association released a statement confirming their findings that pets can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some of this can be attributed to an increase in exercise, particularly with dog owners, and a reduction of stress levels. Dogs also have a beneficial effect on high blood pressure, weight control and cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
3. Dogs are Good for the Waistline
Research has shown that dogs encourage physical activity (someone needs to walk them), which helps humans and dogs maintain a healthy weight. And it’s not just walking that keeps off the pounds. Playing with your dog can also burn a lot of calories. Even if you’ve tried an exercise program before and failed, having a dog can keep you on track. A study called People Pets Exercising Together, conducted by the Wellness Institute at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, concluded that people who exercise with their dogs tend to stick to their exercise program more faithfully than people who exercise alone.
4. Dogs Are Social Secretaries
Not only can dogs alleviate loneliness, but they are one of the best ways to meet people. When you walk your dog, you will connect with a vast community of dog owners and lovers. You’ll meet your neighbors, tourists from other countries, local shop owners, strangers and other dog walkers. You may even meet the love of your life.
In case you need the science behind this, a study by Harvard University, University of Western Australia and Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition (UK), found that “Dog owners … are five times more likely to get to know people in their neighborhoods compared with other pet owners, with dog walking being one of the top five ways for people to meet new people.”
5. Dogs Can Detect Cancer
The remarkable powers of a dog’s nose can detect very early stage cancer long before any current medical test can. In Situ Foundation has been scientifically training dogs to detect early stage cancer in collaboration with UC Davis and Duke University. Research there proved that not only can dogs detect very early stage cancer, but they can differentiate between different kinds of cancer.
That said, anecdotal evidence has been circulating for years. Take Claire Guest, the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs. Her dog, Lucy, a Labrador/Irish water spaniel mix, kept lunging at her chest, which led to the discovery of a lump very deep in her breast. Doctors told her that by the time she would have been able to feel it, the cancer would have been very advanced.
6. Dogs Can Assist with Medical Conditions
Besides cancer, dogs can alert a person with epilepsy to an impending seizure, a diabetic to low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar events, a sufferer of PTSD to an anxiety attack. A dog can aid a person with narcolepsy by standing over them to protect them or to keep them in a chair, and they can also provide a warning that an attack is about to happen. A medical assistance dog can be trained to retrieve medicine, turn lights on and off, and can even dial 911.
7. Dogs Are Therapists
While the majority of dog owners admit to talking to their dogs, a therapy dog has credentials. These dogs work with a wide variety of people, including those with Alzheimer’s, literacy challenges, patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities and people in hospice. A therapy dog can help those suffering from chronic pain and cheer up children in hospitals. Therapy dogs have even helped abused children while they are testifying in court or sexual assault survivors.
8.Dogs Reduce Stress
Petting, cuddling or just gazing into your dog’s eyes can actually help the body increase levels of the hormone oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone” in your brain. Studies have proved that your dog can lower hormones in your body associated with stress, including cortisol, and the neurotransmitters, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which cause that shaky feeling of the “fight or flight” syndrome.
9. Dogs Lower Blood Pressure
Research has shown that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure than people who don’t live with dogs. This may partly be due to the calming effect dogs have on people, according to Harvard Health. “Some research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress,” it reports.
This translates to a steadier heart rate and blood pressure and a faster recovery from the effects of stress on the body. Dr. Karen Allen, a researcher and professor of medicine, conducted a study involving a group of 48 highly stressed stockbrokers, who were all using blood pressure medication. Half of them were selected to add a dog or a cat to their “treatment regimen.” While these pets had no effect on their portfolios, they did significantly stabilize their blood pressure and heart rate.
10. Dogs Alleviate Allergies and Boost the Immune System
Living with a dog (or a cat) during your first year of life can reduce your chance of having pet allergies by 48p percent, according to HABRI, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. A study conducted on the effect of prenatal and infant exposure to dogs found that dogs can boost the baby’s immune system and reduce the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases. Just petting a dog at any age for 18 minutes can cause raised immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels, which is one sign of strong immune function.