Dogs Make You Healthier

You already know how owning a dog can drastically improve your mental health, but can their companionship have a positive effect on your physical health as well? Turns out, it can!

A recent study by BMJ Journals surveyed 3,293 adult pet owners who regularly smoked cigarettes. The study reported that information on the dangers of smoking around their pets would motivate them to change their lifestyles in the following ways:
  1. 28.4% of smokers said they would try to quit
  2. 14.2% of smokers said they would not smoke around their dogs
  3. 16.4% of nonsmokers who lived with a smoker would ask that person to quit
  4. 24.2% of nonsmokers who lived with a smoker would ask that person to smoke outside
  5. 40% of the smokers and 24% of the non-smokers asked for more information about quitting and the dangers of second-hand smoke to their dogs.

This study is just one example from a growing body of research suggesting that canine companions may be good for human health. Outlined below are some additional examples of the ways dogs are improving our lives from the inside out!

Dogs Can Help Your Allergies

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology about 50 million people in the United States have nasal allergies.

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Some research suggests that children who are exposed to animals before the age of 1 are less likely to develop seasonal allergies or asthma later in life as adults. Getting a new pet is probably the last thing on your mind when you have a baby on the way, but it could be your child’s best defense against future allergies.

Another study surveyed 55 college students who were asked to either pet a live dog, pet a stuffed dog, or do neither and just sit on a couch. Saliva samples were taken from the students before and after the interactions. Scientists found that the secretory immunoglobulin A (which plays an important role in mucosal immunity and fighting infections) was significantly increased in the group of students petting a live dog!

Dogs can also be specially trained to help people with severe allergies avoid foods or substances that could trigger anaphylaxis (serious life-threatening allergic reaction). Canines have 220 million olfactory receptors in their nose compared to our 5 million. With specialized coaching, dogs can be taught to use their powerful noses to detect even trace amounts of potentially dangerous substances in their handler’s environments. In fact, detection dogs are the most accurate and practical form of scent detection readily available!

Dogs Improve Your Cardiovascular Health

Several studies have shown that dog owners have a lower blood pressure than people without pets. This is probably because their pets have a calming effect on them and because dog owners tend to get more exercise. A newer study merged data from the Swedish National Patient Register, which included information on all Swedes from the ages of 40 to 85 who had had a heart attack or stroke between January 2001 and December 2012, with data from the Swedish Kennel Club and the Swedish Board of Agriculture dog registers.

Out of those databases, the researchers gathered information on 181,696 patients. They discovered:

  • Only 5.7 % of people who suffered a heart attack owned a dog

  • Only 4.8 % of people who suffered a stroke owned a dog

These amazing results are likely because owning a pet lowers your blood pressure and increases the amount of daily exercise you get.

Spending just a few minutes with a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure and anxiety. This leads to an increase in people’s levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that people performing stressful tasks do better when there’s a dog around.

Dog Owners Live Longer!

Dog owners are happier and live longer! Once your dog has reduced your stress levels, your blood pressure, and boosts your immune system they can listen all about your recent heartbreak, help you get over it, and may be able to help you find a new soul mate.

With the combined increase in exercise, reduced stress, blood pressure, and allergies it’s no wonder dogs owners typically live longer than people without pets! A new study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, reviewed several decades’ worth of evidence on the relationship between dog ownership and mortality. I’m sure you won’t be surprised by the results; the authors of the study determined that “dog ownership was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to non-ownership”.

While growing evidence supports the idea that dogs enhance human health and well-being, most dog owners can agree that the health benefits of their pups are just a bonus to the loving relationship they share.

From boosting our immune system to encouraging exercise dogs to help us stay healthier and live longer. They are great companions for all members of the family and be trained to keep you safe. Their amazing sense of smell can detect cancersallergens and they are able to detect the onset of seizures. They improve our happiness and help us deal with depression and anxiety.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions