Sunday, August 26th is National Dog Day—the four-legged kind not the one that goes in a bun. In honor of that, and being a dog-lover myself, I thought I’d explore the health benefits of man’s best friend.
If you’ve ever watched the news or been on YouTube, no doubt you’ve seen a few cute pet videos. And while you won’t get any argument from me on the cuteness factor, research is showing that pets offer their owners some pretty significant health benefits too.
When I’m stressed or feeling down, the one person in my house who knows exactly what to “say” is my trusted, and beloved Black Lab, Finlay (who is laying on my feet as I type). Somehow, she senses when you need a little extra love or a slobbery kiss. And it has never ceased to amaze me how much better I feel when she’s around. I’ve always been a “dog person.” In fact, I don’t think—even as a kid—I’ve gone longer than a few months without having a four-legged companion. It turns out the feeling of happiness and well-being I have when she’s around isn’t just something I’m imagining.
Pets & Mental Health
A recent study in the UK interviewed people with serious, and long term, mental health issues. Among other things, they were asked to place on a diagram, people who they relied on most for support. 60% included their pets in their most important support circle that included their closest family or friends. Another 20% placed pets in the second most important group.
Participants reported that their pets help them feel less isolated—they don’t care what your condition is or try to understand, they just give unconditional love and support. Others reported that their pets help distract them or kept them from withdrawing from society by forcing them to do things like taking their dog for a walk.
Professionally trained therapy dogs are also helping patients with PTSD, Alzheimer’s, depression and even Autism. Therapy dog owners are more calm and have a better quality of life. They tend to be more social, less anxious and have a better sense of safety and security being out in the world as a result of their canine companion. And therapy dogs can be trained to do amazing things—pull covers off when they sense their human is having a bad dream, retrieve keys, help open doors and cabinets…the list goes on-and-on.
Pets & Health Benefits
We’ve all heard the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and I think we can all admit that’s not necessarily the case, but could that be true for pet owners? Well, it turns out the answer is yes.
A study by a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that kids with a pet in the home were 33% less likely to develop related allergies and tended to have stronger immune systems.
Another joint study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. What was even more shocking to me about this study was that patients who had already suffered a heart attack had better recovery rates because pets lower stress levels. My dad had joint replacement surgery last year and while he was in the hospital, he had a visit from a sweet Golden Retriever. His mood immediately improved and we still talk about it months later.
I realize not everyone can have a pet—they are like kids and there are expenses for things like food and the vet. So I’ll leave you with this…there are studies that show watching fish can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.