22 Ways Dogs Make Humans Healthier
There are about a million ways your dog can make you healthier--from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your dating life. Here are 22 of them. There's a bunch of awesome science below, but we also wrapped everything up into an infographic for fun. Check it out.
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1. Dogs enhance your mood.
We dog people have always kind of just… known that dogs help boost your mood. But did you know there’s good, hard, scientific evidence for it?
Dr. Rebecca Johnson, a nursing professor and associate director at the Center for Animal Wellness, Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine, conducted a study that measured the hormonal changes in dogs and humans when they interact with each other.
Her team measured hormonal changes in the blood of people interacting with their own dogs, a dog they didn’t know (but how was friendly), and a robotic dog (really).
They found that after 15 minutes, people petting their own dogs experienced significant serotonin (a feel-good chemical) increases, but it stayed the same when petting the unfamiliar dog.
And as for the robot dog? It turns out petting a robot dog actually caused serotonin levels to decrease. So that’s one thing (at least) technology won’t be replacing anytime soon!
2. Dogs help lower blood pressure.
An assistant professor of medicine at the University of Buffalo, Dr. Karen Allen, ran an awesome little experiment in which she tested the effects of interacting with a dog on blood pressure.
To do that, she found a group of folks whose jobs probably couldn’t get any more stressful if they were jumping out of airplanes: stockbrokers!
Dr. Allen recorded the blood pressure of a group of 48 stockbrokers, paying specially attention to their readings in stressful situations. A random group of 24 were chosen to interact with a dog as part of their de-stress treatments (all 48 were taking blood pressure medication.
The results probably aren’t surprising to most dog owners: the group who interacted with dogs reported significantly lower blood pressure, and, in fact, the dogs were more effective at lowering blood pressure than the drugs!
Here's more in-depth explanation:
3. They also help lower cholesterol & triglycerides.
This is one of the most interesting studies, I think, since some of it is so counterintuitive.
A researcher named Erika Friedman published a study in a book called The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interactions: Benefits and Responsibilities, in which she set out to find connections between pet ownership and human wellness.
Friedman compared 784 pet owners between ages 20 and 59 to a group of 4957 non-pet owners in the same age group. She found that on the whole, pet owners have lower plasma triglyceride levels than non-pet owners (blood pressure, too), and male pet owners have significantly lower cholesterol.
But here’s the crazy thing: pet owners were also more likely to drink alcohol and order takeout food, both of which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, pet owners also tended to be more active, which may have contributed to lower numbers (quick note that the point of this part of the study was to point out that lifestyle factors alone did not contribute to the difference in readings, implying that dogs themselves play a factor).
4. Dog owners have healthier hearts.
Lots of the stuff already mentioned combines to create overall better heart health for dog owners. The American Heart Associate released a report after surveying dozens of studies that, while not definitive, notes that dog ownership may have a causal relationship to heart disease (reducing its risk).
Dr. Glenn N. Levine, the head of the committee that released the statement, noted, ““Several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline-like hormone release when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present.”
5. Petting a dog fights depression.
There was a study published in AIDS Care (Siegel JM, Angulo FJ, Detels R, Wesch J, Mullen A.) called “AIDS Diagnosis and Depression in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study: the Ameliorating Impact of Pet Ownership” that measured the effect of pet (mostly dog) ownership on AIDS patients.
The study found that people who owned dogs were significantly less likely to become depressed that those who did not. Interestingly, this phenomenon was present in HIV-infected men only.
That said, plenty of other studies have shown that interacting with dogs releases serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, all of which help ameliorate the effects of depression. Kind of cool!
Here's an awesome, personal video about how one dog helps her owner with depression:
6. They keep you active.
A study published in The Journal of Physical Activity & Health concluded that dog owners have better odds of achieving fitness goals than non-dog owners, which might be because they tend to be much more likely to walk at least 150 minutes in a week.
But it’s not just that they walk more. They also walk faster. A different study conducted by the University of Missouri found that people walking puppies walked about 28% faster than a normal, boring human.
7. Dogs can even detect cancer.
Dogs have been known to detect cancer for almost two decades now (although many people suspected they could long before that). One of the earliest studies to verify this was published in a 1989 issue of The Lancet.
In the report, an unnamed patient came in to get a mole inspected after telling doctors her dog wouldn’t stop sniffing it and even tried to bite it off! After a biopsy, the mole turned out to be malignant melanoma.
Several other scientific studies have demonstrated dogs can sniff out other cancers, including lung cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and colon cancer. One dog in particular, a lab named Panda, correctly detected colorectal cancer in 33 out of 38 patients.
Who needs a doctor when you have a dogter? Kidding, of course. Go to the doctor. I just couldn’t resist the pun.
Here's another amazing dog-detecting-cancer story.
8. There's a sense of community among dog owners.
Any dog owner knows that having a dog is just about the best icebreaker in the world. It gives people something to talk about, ask about, and focus on. Also, it’s a good way to make friends, since dog owners have lots of common ground.
There are also dogs specifically trained to help people with social anxiety. Organizations like Midnight Sun Service Dogs are trained to do lots of great stuff, like provide tactile stimulation or pressure when their owners feel overwhelmed or lead them to a safe place.
But they’re also trained to help their owners make friends! A service dog from Midnight Sun Service Dogs can also actually help start social interactions. How cool is that?
9. Growing up with dogs actually reduces allergies.
A study done by allergist Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, PhD, of the University of Virginia, and a team of Swedish researchers found that children who lived with pets longer had much better odds of avoiding pet allergies in the future.
Another study showed a positive correlation between the number of pets in a home and the likelihood of babies developing allergies: when two or more pets were present, the likelihood that an infant would develop allergies decreased 77%.
That’s nothing to sneeze at!
10. ...and contributes to stronger immune systems.
James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also did a bunch of studies on how owning a dog can affect the odds of developing allergies. He found the same thing as the Dr. Platts-Mills, which is cool, but he also found that folks who grew up with dogs tended to have stronger immune systems.
According to Dr. Gern, it’s mostly because dogs are basically just balls of fur and dirt, and by being exposed to more bacteria and allergens, it’s easier for growing children to develop stronger immune systems. These findings were corroborated in a later study in Pediatrics, a scientific journal, which found that kids who grow up with pets don’t get sick as often.
11. Dogs can detect blood sugar crashes.
Did you know blood sugar has a smell? It does, and dogs can be trained to sniff it out. There are plenty of organizations out there who help train service dogs to detect spikes and crashes in blood sugar, alerting their owner that they should have a snake or actually getting help themselves.
Some dogs don’t even need that training, though. One heroic pit bull named TaterTot (a rescue, by the way) detected a sharp drop in the blood sugar of one of his pack, a 4-year old boy named Peytton. TaterTot alerted Peyton’s mom, who rushed him to the hospital. In the end, he was fine, and TaterTot totally saved the day.
Here's an awesome story about a boy and his diabetic alert dog:
12. They can also be therapy professionals.
Among the many jobs a dog can have, one is professional comforter. Some gentle dogs are trained to provide comfort to those who have gone through serious trauma.
For example, therapy dogs were brought in to comfort children after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. One little boy who wasn’t even able to share his experience with his parents found he was able to open to a dog. Another girl who hadn’t spoken to her mother since the shootings started speaking again.
Tim Hetzner, head of K9 Comfort Dogs, said, "A lot of times, kids talk directly to the dog. They're kind of like counselors with fur. They have excellent listening skills, and they demonstrate unconditional love. They don't judge you or talk back." You can find more information on therapy dogs here.
What to see a day in the life of a therapy dog? Check this one out (warning: prepare for some onion cutting...).
13. Canine cancer research benefits human cancer research.
About one in three dogs will get cancer at some point in their lives. No one wants their dog to get cancer, and there are a couple different foundations dedicated to dog cancer research and awareness.
Of course, people also get cancer, and some of the cancers are shared between the two species. That means there’s a sort of double-pronged attack on cancer happening—with the human cancer research benefitting dogs and vice versa.
14. Plus, dogs can boost your dating life.
If you’re single and reading this blog, you may have found yourself (at some point) writing, “Must love dogs” on your online dating profile.
Well, now you may not have to. There are a few major dating sites that have sprung up in the last couple of years geared specifically toward dog owners. A couple of the big ones are YouMustLoveDogsDating and PetPeopleMeet.
Outside of the online realm, everyone knows that an adorable puppy is the best way to meet cute girls/guys. But that’s nothing new.
15. They lend focus to folks with ADHD & PTSD.
There’s a certain brand of therapy dogs specifically trained to help children the ADHD. These dogs help their owners focus by ameliorating sensory overload by disrupting disrupted behaviors.
They can also provide a calming influence and provide sensory stimulation, and sometimes the dogs help just by being around.
Here’s how one parent described why exactly her daughter (who has ADHD) benefits so much from hanging out with the family dog, Benny:
- “He welcomes Natalie expansively when she arrives at Aunt Ann’s house (this is an excerpt from this ADDitudemag.com article).
- He offers opportunities for exercise and “green time”, by demanding long walks and strenuous outdoor play.
- He puts up with being picked up, rolled on, and other varieties of unintentional roughness.
- He scratches on the door of the room where Natalie sleeps, inviting her to get up and start another exciting day, and making her feel wanted.
- He rides along in the car for all the weekend’s adventures.
- He’s unconditional love wrapped in an attractive, furry package.”
They also provide the same type of help to folks with PTSD. For example, just watch how this service dog reacts when this soldier gets distressed during an interview. Pretty amazing.
16. ...and provide sensory stimuli for autistic children (& adults).
Dogs who help children who have ADHD typically have similar training to those who help children with autism. They also perform a lot of the same therapeutic activities. They provide relief from sensory overload by giving their owners something to focus on.
They serve as a calming presence, and they can serve as a trustworthy companion to kids with attachment issues. They can also act as an anchor—being physically tied to their owners to keep them from wandering off. There’s a bunch of great info on these dogs here.
Here's an amazingly hilarious video called, "Sh*t People Say to Autistic Dog Partners."
17. And did you know dog owners often have stronger bones?
When you exercise, you’re not just building muscle. You’re also maintaining the thickness of your bones, especially when you take part in weight-bearing exercises (which is why weight-bearing exercises are a part of most osteoporosis treatment plans). Dog owners usually have a furry friend bugging them to go outside all the time, making it easier to get off the couch and put a little weight on those legs.
18. Exercising with a dog is a good outlet for arthritis.
Exercise is good for everyone. It keeps you healthy, and everyone knows it. But if you’ve got arthritis, good, daily exercise can provide quite a bit of relief from pain.
Most doctors recommend three types of exercises to help with arthritis: range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and aerobic exercises. So, something like tossing a Frisbee around with your pup (or even going on a dog-jog) can have some pretty amazing benefits.
19. They're also like your own personal heat pad.
Heat therapy is a great way to battle chronic pain—especially stuff like back pain. It helps to dialate blood vessels, stimulate sensory receptors in the skin, and helps stretch soft tissues.
Most heat therapy requires a heating pad, but you probably don’t need one if you have a cuddly dog who likes to sit on whatever part of your body you’ll let her (cough *our dog* cough). Some breeds of dog, like the Mexican Hairless, are known for giving off crazy amounts of body heat, making them good cuddle buddies for chronic pain sufferers.
20. Mysteriously, dogs can detect seizures.
No one’s quite sure how they do it, but dogs are very good at detecting when a person is going to have a seizure. One theory is that dog’s react to the changes in a person’s body language before (since we know they’re very tuned in to body language), while other theories suggest dogs can detect changes in body odor or electrical buildup.
However they do it, seizure alert dogs have saved plenty of lives. These perceptive pups will either lay on the ground next to their owners to prevent injury or bark to alert someone nearby (although some dogs only alert their owners).
Check out some of these dogs in action.
21. They're also good listeners for aphasia.
Aphasia, a language disorder, often makes it difficult to speak. This (obviously) can be super-frustrating, since it’s tougher to communicate with people.
Dogs, on the other hand, can be trained to understand a variety of commands no matter how they sound, boosting a patient’s confidence when the dog understands them.
22. Plus, they just calm you down.
One study showed that AIDS patients were significantly less likely to become depressed if they interacted with a dog on a regular basis. Plus, we’ve already seen a bunch of studies that show dogs consistently lower the blood pressure of their owners in stressful situations.
And, I don’t know about you, but there’s really nothing better than coming home after a long day, scrunching our dog's little face in my hands, and kissing her on her wet little puppy nose. Yea; dog’s definitely do a good job of calming you do.