Dogs and pets are really good for our health.

A return to a subject of concern to all us humans.

A little under three weeks ago I posted an item Why dogs are so good for us. It was well-received.

Thus another article that I came across on Mother Nature Network recently seems to make good sense; you be the judge!

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Pets are good for your health, and we have the studies to prove it.

By SIDNEY STEVENS
April 6, 2018.

Pets strengthen our hearts, calm our nerves and a whole lot more. (Photo: Kotkot32/Shutterstock)

If you have pets you already know the joy and love they bring to your life. Now science is confirming just how good they really are for you — both mentally and physically.

How do they help? One theory is that pets boost our oxytocin levels. Also known as the “bonding hormone” or “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin enhances social skills, decreases blood pressure and heart rate, boosts immune function and raises tolerance for pain. It also lowers stress, anger and depression.

No surprise then that keeping regular company with a dog or cat (or another beloved beast) appears to offer all these same benefits and more. Read on to discover the many impressive ways a pet can make you healthier, happier and more resilient.

1. Pets help you live longer, healthier lives

Having a dog is associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease or other causes, according to a 2017 study that followed 3.4 million people in Sweden. Researchers studied men and women between the ages of 40 and 80 and followed their health records (and whether they owned a dog) for about a dozen years. The study found that for people who lived alone, owning a dog can decrease their risk of death by 33 percent and their risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent, compared to single people without a pet. Chances of having a heart attack were also 11 percent lower.

2. Pets alleviate allergies and boost immune function

One of your immune system’s jobs is to identify potentially harmful substances and unleash antibodies to ward off the threat. But sometimes it overreacts and misidentifies harmless stuff as dangerous, causing an allergic reaction. Think red eyes, itchy skin, runny nose and wheezing.

You’d think that having pets might trigger allergies by kicking up sneeze-and-wheeze-inducing dander and fur. But it turns out that living with a dog or cat during the first year of life not only cuts your chances of having pet allergies in childhood and later on but also lowers your risk of asthma. A new 2017 study found that newborns who live with cats have a lower risk of childhood asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis.

Living with a pet as a child also revs up your immune system. In fact, just a brief pet encounter can invigorate your disease-defense system. In one study, petting a dog for only 18 minutes raised immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels in college students’ saliva, a sign of robust immune function.

There’s even some new research that suggests links between the microbes pets bring into our home and the beneficial ones that live in our digestive tract. “Exposure to animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize the neurotransmitters that have an impact on mood and other mental functions,” Jack Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago, told the New York Times. Gilbert is coauthor of a study that found Amish children have lower rates of asthma because they grow up with livestock and the bacteria they host. Gilbert cautions that studies about how pet microbes might affect human gut bacteria is still in early stages.

3. Pets up your fitness quotient

This one applies more to dog owners. If you like walking with your favorite canine, chances are you’re fitter and trimmer than your non-dog-walking counterparts and come closer to meeting recommended physical activity levels. One study of more than 2,000 adults found that regular dog walkers got more exercise and were less likely to be obese than those who didn’t walk a dog. In another study, older dog walkers (ages 71-82) walked faster and longer than non-pooch-walkers, plus they were more mobile at home.

Dog owners who take their canine companions on walks tend to be trimmer and fitter than their fellow dog-less peers. (Photo: AMatveev/Shutterstock)

4. Pets dial down stress

When stress comes your way, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones like cortisol to crank out more energy-boosting blood sugar and epinephrine to get your heart and blood pumping. All well and good for our ancestors who needed quick bursts of speed to dodge predatory saber-toothed tigers and stampeding mastodons. But when we live in a constant state of fight-or-flight from ongoing stress at work and the frenetic pace of modern life, these physical changes take their toll on our bodies, including raising our risk of heart disease and other dangerous conditions. Contact with pets seem to counteract this stress response by lowering stress hormones and heart rate. They also lower anxiety and fear levels (psychological responses to stress) and elevate feelings of calmness. Studies have found that dogs can help ease stress and loneliness for seniors, as well as help calm pre-exam stress for college students.

5. Pets boost heart health

Pets shower us with love so it’s not surprising they have a big impact on our love organ: the heart. Turns out time spent with a cherished critter is linked to better cardiovascular health, possibly due to the stress-busting effect mentioned above. Studies show that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs also benefit patients who already have cardiovascular disease. They’re not only four times more likely to be alive after a year if they own a dog, but they’re also more likely to survive a heart attack. And don’t worry, cat owners — feline affection confers a similar effect. One 10-year study found that current and former cat owners were 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack and 30 percent less likely to die of other cardiovascular diseases.

6. Make you a social — and date — magnet

Four-legged companions (particularly the canine variety that pull us out of the house for daily walks) help us make more friends and appear more approachable, trustworthy and date-worthy. In one study, people in wheelchairs who had a dog received more smiles and had more conversations with passersby than those without a dog. In another study, college students who were asked to watch videos of two psychotherapists (depicted once with a dog and once without) said they felt more positively toward them when they had a dog and more likely to disclose personal information. And good news for guys: research shows that women are more willing to give out their number to men with a canine buddy.

A dog can make you appear friendlier and more approachable to others. (Photo: CandyBox Images/Shutterstock)

7. Provide a social salve for Alzheimer’s patients

Just as non-human pals strengthen our social skills and connection, cats and dogs also offer furry, friendly comfort and social bonding to people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of brain-destroying dementia. Several canine caregiver programs now exist to assist at-home dementia patients with day-to-day tasks, such as fetching medication, reminding them to eat and guiding them home if they’ve wandered off course. Many assisted-living facilities also keep resident pets or offer therapy animal visits to support and stimulate patients. Studies show creature companions can reduce behavioral issues among dementia patients by boosting their moods and raising their nutritional intake.

8. Enhance social skills in kids with autism

One in nearly 70 American kids has autism (also known as autism spectrum disorder, or ASD), a developmental disability that makes it tough to communicate and interact socially. Not surprisingly, animals can also help these kids connect better to others. One study found that youngsters with ASD talked and laughed more, whined and cried less and were more social with peers when guinea pigs were present. A multitude of ASD animal-assisted therapy programs have sprung up in recent years, featuring everything from dogs and dolphins to alpacas, horses and even chickens.

Animal-assisted therapy helps kids with autism and other developmental disabilities learn social skills. (Photo: GoodDog Autism/flickr)

9. Dampen depression and boosts mood

Pets keep loneliness and isolation at bay and make us smile. In other words, their creature camaraderie and ability to keep us engaged in daily life (via endearing demands for food, attention and walks) are good recipes for warding off the blues. Research is ongoing, but animal-assisted therapy is proving particularly potent in deterring depression and other mood disorders. Studies show that everyone from older men in a veterans hospital who were exposed to an aviary filled with songbirds to depressed college students who spent time with dogs reported feeling more positive.

10. Defeat PTSD

People haunted by trauma like combat, assault and natural disasters are particularly vulnerable to a mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sure enough, studies show that the unconditional love — and oxytocin boost — of a pet can help remedy the flashbacks, emotional numbness and angry outbursts linked to PTSD. Even better, there are now several programs that pair specially trained service dogs and cats with veterans suffering from PTSD.

11. Fight cancer

Animal-assisted therapy helps cancer patients heal emotionally and physically. Preliminary findings of a clinical trial by the American Humane Association shows that therapy dogs not only erase loneliness, depression and stress in kids fighting cancer, but canines can also motivate them to eat and follow treatment recommendations better — in other words participate more actively in their own healing. Likewise, new research reveals a similar lift in emotional well-being for adults undergoing the physical rigors of cancer treatment. Even more astounding, dogs (with their stellar smelling skills) are now being trained to literally sniff out cancer.

12. Put the kibosh on pain

Millions live with chronic pain, but animals can soothe some of it away. In one study, 34 percent of patients with the pain disorder fibromyalgia reported pain relief (and a better mood and less fatigue) after visiting for 10-15 minutes with a therapy dog compared to only 4 percent of patients who just sat in a waiting room. In another study, those who had undergone total joint replacement surgery needed 28 percent less pain medication after daily visits from a therapy dog than those who got no canine contact.

Editor’s note: This file has been updated since it was originally published in November 2015.

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Well there’s a list to take note of!

And speaking personally my Jeannie has Parkinson’s Disease. She was diagnosed in December 2015. She is doing really well; in part because of our diet (we are vegan), in part because of the Rock Steady class she attends two mornings a week, and in very large part because we have six very loving dogs.

Case made!

18 thoughts on “Dogs and pets are really good for our health.

  1. Wow! as an old guy who lives with a pooch, I was a believer that a dog can make your life better in a lot of ways before reading your article, but the effect on newborns and young children was a wonderful surprise. I will have to pass that on to my young friends who have small children as well as dogs. Good post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m glad she is doing well, that’s so great! My and my fathers blood pressure, body inflammation and sleep have improved with a vegan diet.
    I never realized how much the food we eat affects how we feel, sounds silly saying it because it seems so obvious now.

    I enjoyed this post and wanted to share how my fathers pit doggie has alerted us when his heart attacks happened and soothes his PTSD. She isn’t registered but she’s definitely his therapy dog 💜

    Like

    1. The effect of food is fundamental to how we feel, and how we behave. Likewise, we had no idea back a few years ago when we were just vegetarian. And that’s great news regarding your father’s dog!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I was vegetarian since 2004 and transitioned to vegan (once I found out some disturbing things about dairy) in 2018. So happy to see another family benefiting !

        Like

      2. It’s not just dairy! It seems impossible to buy chicken or fish that is guaranteed to be 100% free from undesirables.

        Being on a vegan diet is perfect! I find it wholesome, very healthy and fun! Seems like you and your father do as well. (Fancy swapping recipes?)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. it is so scary! I have been telling some about the fish issues and all seem to be shocked… and I’d love to swap recipes, I made some yummy home fries this morning! yes let’s!!

        Like

  3. I believe every word of this. Animals are good for us. I didn’t grow up with them because we were moving every year or two and often transcontinental. Mom had four of us and dad to take care of so that was all the pets she wanted. I did finally get a dog and cat for my children when it looked like life was going to settle a while and I loved them so much. I can’t have one now but I still get my fixes where I can. Glad to hear Jean is doing so well.

    Like

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