Chilled-out canines experience a moment of utter calmness
Australian animal photographer Alex Cearns remembers the first Zen dog image she ever captured, a Shar-Pei named Suzi.
“During her photo session, I caught a shot of her with her eyes closed, and a big smile on her face. I called the image ‘Zen Dog,’ and when her owners saw it, they immediately fell in love with the vibe of the image and with Suzi’s relaxed and happy pose,” Cearns says.
“With such positive feedback, I became keen to capture the emotion and moment of being a Zen dog for other dogs who visited my studio.”
Cearns tries to take at least one Zen-like image for every dog photo session she conducts at her Houndstooth Studio, even if the process takes time. She has compiled 80 of these images of meditative canines in her new book “Zen Dogs.”
To get her canine subjects to relax, Cearns makes sure they are authentically calm and happy. Her studio is small, quiet and without many distractions.
“During my photo sessions, I realized that some types of dogs are more likely to close their eyes than others,” Cearns says. “Dogs who were fairly laid back, or who liked to lie about were easier to photograph in a Zen state, whereas dogs overly fixated on toys or treats wouldn’t close their eyes for a second, should the toy or treat disappear. They kept their eyes firmly on the prize.”
Although it might look like the dogs are zoned out or even sleeping, that’s not the case; Cearns has skillfully caught a restful moment with her camera.
“The images capture a split second blink of my dog subjects, freezing the moment in time,” she says. “Sitting only a foot away, I’m able to watch each dog subject carefully to pick up on their blinking pattern, and take a series of images just before I predict their blink.”
The book “Zen Dogs” includes photos of a wide range of breeds, interspersed with Zen-inspired quotes by Gandhi, Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi and others with thoughtful, meditative words to share. There’s this one, for example, from “Unknown”:
If you’re always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you’re in?
“As soon as a dog visits my studio, I aim to genuinely make friends with them and ensure they are comfortable and feel secure,” says Cearns. “I try to find out what they love most — a certain type of treat, or a particular toy — and then use that knowledge to win them over.”
It’s a wonderful reminder of what is important in our lives.
Hugo the puppy is the subject of this winning image by 16-year-old Jade Hudson.
The gray faces of old dogs speak to all the love and friendship they’ve provided over the years as Lizzie, a 12-year-old mixed breed dog, shows us. Curling up with a cracking fire and your four-legged BFF is one of life’s great joys.
This portrait of two Afghan hounds named Ozzie and Elvis took first place for the Dog Portrait category. The setting is the idyllic Ashdown Forest in Sussex.
And finally, the winner of the Puppy category is little rescue puppy Buddy enjoying a bowl of milk. The photo was taken by Colorado-based photographer Linda Storm.
“The entries for this year’s Dog Photographer of the Year competition were some of the best we have ever seen,” says Rosemary Smart, Kennel Club chief executive. “Choosing the winners was an incredibly challenging task and we commend every photographer who entered. Each of the winning photographers beautifully captured the essence of their canine subjects on camera, demonstrating how important dogs are to us in every walk of life.”
If you’re a photographer who loves dogs as your subject, keep an eye on the opening date for next year’s competition!
I should say so! These photographs are the very best of pictures taken by very talented photographers.
I don’t know. What with wood splitting ahead of the rain and snow, and working hard at editing the completed book, I didn’t seem to have the creative urge to publish a new Picture Parade.
So I’m once again republishing one that was first published on July 17th, 2016.
Incredible, prize-winning, images of dogs.
The following was read over on Mother Nature News on June 30th. The item, and especially the photographs, just had to be shared with you.
However, to ensure the integrity of republication and the identity of the photographers, I’m going to include the photographs and the words of the original MNN piece, and split it across today and next Sunday.
Trust me you will adore these photographs.
These prize-winning images of dogs will steal your heart.
10th annual Dog Photographer of the Year competition drew entries from photographers in 90 countries.
The love of a dog is a universal joy, as the latest photography competition from The Kennel Club illustrates. The 10th annual competition drew over 13,000 entries from photographers in 90 countries. The photographs show the beauty, loyalty, companionship, dignity and, of course, the adorableness of dogs around the world.
The competition features eight categories, including Puppies, Oldies, Dogs at Work, Dogs at Play, Man’s Best Friend (winner pictured above), Assistance Dogs and Dog Charities, Dog Portraits and I Love Dogs Because.
This image of Sheldon the English springer spaniel enjoying a mist-shrouded pond early one morning is the work of Anastasia Vetkovskaya from Russia. Not only did it win for the Dogs At Work category, but it also placed as the overall winner of the competition.
Vetkovskaya states, “I have loved animals from an early age, which is why I went to Moscow Veterinary Academy and became a veterinary surgeon in 2007. Around this period of time, my husband gave me my first SLR camera, and since then I have devoted all of my free time to photography. My specialty is pets, and I am inspired most by horses and dogs.”
Baxter the Westie inspired his photography-loving human, Tom Lowe, to snap this image of Baxter playing in the water of Loch Lomond in Scotland.
This poignant image was taken by Michael Higginson, and features his brother Dale with Esta the dog. The win not only benefits the photographer but also a charity of his choice. The Kennel Club is making a donation to Higginson’s favorite charity, Dogs for Good.
Higginson states, “Winning the Assistance Dog category has made it even more special. It’s an honor to be able to show the world what a difference a dog can make to someone else’s life.”
Aren’t they breath-takingly beautiful!
The rest of these fabulous photographs in a week’s time.
When veterans return from combat, many can’t leave behind the terrors they witnessed. In the U.S., roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day — or one every 65 minutes — according to a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The psychological pain of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) breaks up relationships, ends jobs and causes depression and other issues. To help manage the haunting memories and pain, some veterans have found respite in four-legged treatment. Trained service dogs have helped some veterans return to their lives after combat.
The documentary “To Be of Service” follows several American veterans of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam and the dogs that help them cope with PTSD. The film was directed by Josh Aronson, known for the Oscar-nominated documentary “Sound and Fury” about deaf families.
Many of the veterans in the documentary had turned to medications, alcohol or illegal drugs to try to cope with life after combat. But the film shows how having to care for a dog gave them a sense of a purpose and an ever-present friend.
‘I had to tell these stories’
Glen Moody rarely left his house before being paired with Indy. (Photo: ‘To Be of Service’)
The documentary follows nearly a dozen veterans including Glen Moody, who was a Navy Corpsman stationed with the Marines in Iraq. He never got into a fight in his life before he was deployed, but he returned an adrenaline junkie. He would get into bar brawls and ride his motorcycle drunk at 100 mph. He was heavily meditated to treat his PTSD, but never went out, eventually losing all his friends.
“They spend millions to make us warriors but not near enough to teach us to return home,” Moody says.
After being paired with service dog Indy, his rage and anxiety has started to subside. He has made friends again and he rides his motorcycle “like an adult,” he says.
It’s stories like this that prompted producer Julie Sayres to get involved. She has been writing about and working with veterans for the past several years.
“I began to imagine how unsafe a veteran struggling with physical and emotional trauma must feel upon returning from war, to a world that doesn’t have a clue what he or she has endured. It’s isolating and terrifying, leading to never leaving the house, excessive drinking or drug use and in many cases, suicide. I began to explore what these amazing service dogs do to mitigate this kind of anguish,” said Sayres.
“I’ve seen men and women come back to life after letting a dog into their life. I’ve seen families come together after the black cloud of despair is lifted from their father, mother, daughter or son. I had to tell these stories.”
Currently, the film is scheduled for screenings in about a dozen cities, but more will likely be added. To find a screening near you or to find out how to schedule a community or educational screening, check out the film’s website.
Here’s a tissue-worthy peek at what to expect:
I have said it before and no doubt that I will say it again many times: A dog is without doubt man’s best friend!
Photographers Kelly Pratt and Ian Kreidich frequently work with professional dancers, capturing their gorgeous movements and their breathtaking abilities. But in a random moment, Pratt suggested to her husband, Kreidich, that they throw a few dogs into the mix for an unusual collaboration.
“We definitely didn’t fully know what to expect with this project,” Pratt tells MNN. “We started very small — at first we worked with our friends at the St. Louis Ballet — and just slowly tried to figure out what worked and what didn’t, when it came to working with dogs. No one had ever done this before, so it was all trial and error.”
Pratt and Kreidich spent more than two years photographing 100 dancers and 100 dogs in more than 10 cities across the U.S. Now the images of graceful dancers and furry companions are in the book “Dancers & Dogs.”
People just seem to love snub-nosed dogs. From bulldogs and pugs to Boston terriers and Cavalier King Charles spaniels, these flat-faced breeds are regulars at the dog parks and stars on social media.
According to the American Kennel Club, French bulldogs and bulldogs are the fourth and fifth most popular breeds in the U.S. (following only Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and golden retrievers). Their faces are just so photogenic and cute.
Breeds with broad, short skulls are called brachycephalic. They have flat faces and large, wide-set eyes that give them somewhat of a baby-like appearance. As common as these breeds are in public, they’re also regular patients at the veterinarian’s office because they’re more likely to have an array of health conditions, often because of breathing problems called brachycephalic syndrome. A survey of five years of Australian pet health insurance claims found that the average annual veterinary bill for a British bulldog was $965 compared to $445 for a mixed breed.
Here are some of the medical problems that come along with those photogenic faces.
Heat and summer
Dogs with short snouts are at a higher risk of heat-related issues because their anatomy makes it harder for them to have easy breathing, especially in the heat and humidity. Make sure to have plenty of water on hand, keep pets in the shade and ideally, indoors, during the hottest hours of the day.
Pugs and other brachycephalic breeds often make snoring, wheezing noises. (Photo: fongleon356/Shutterstock)Narrowed nostrils and elongation of the soft palate in snub-nosed dogs obstructs the passage of air through the nose and throat. That’s why these dogs often seem to be making snoring, wheezing or snorting noises. It’s a good idea to make sure your vet closely monitors what’s going on to make sure the noises don’t change or there isn’t an obstruction.
With their big, wide-set eyes, brachycephalic breeds are more likely to develop certain opthalmologic issues. Because they have a shallow eye socket that gives them the “bulging eyes” look, many of these dogs can’t always fully blink. This can lead to dry corneas and corneal ulcers, according to The Kennel Club. Their unusual eye and eyelid anatomy also makes them more likely to have conjunctivitis and eye injuries.
Along with breathing problems, flat-faced dogs are also often more likely to have skin problems, according to an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) analysis of pet insurance claims. It’s because these dogs often have deep skin folds and wrinkles. They are often more likely to have issues with fungal skin disease, allergic dermatitis, ear infections and pyoderma (a painful skin disease with painful pustules).
What are the brachycephalic breeds?
Not sure if that smushy-faced pup is one to worry about? Nationwide Pet Insurance identifies two dozen breeds that fall under the brachycephalyic breed description:
Bulldog (Olde English)
Cavalier King Charles spaniel
Dogue de Bordeaux
Olde English bulldog
There are many more “brachycephalyic breed” dogs than I realised. This was an important article, me thinks. Many, many readers of this place will have one.
And a particular credit must go to the dog’s nose. It is many more times more sensitive than our nose, as the following article taken from Mother Nature Network shows. (And I really must stop republishing articles from MNN!)
6 medical conditions that dogs can sniff out
From cancer to migraines and even seizures, dogs can give us a heads up about a range of human diseases.
Dogs are famous for their sense of smell. With about 220 million scent receptors (compared to our 5 million), dogs can smell things that seem unfathomable to us. They can detect some odors in parts per trillion, and they can detect countless subtleties in scents.
As PBS points out, “Experts have reported incredible true stories about the acuteness of dogs’ sense of smell. There’s the drug-sniffing dog that ‘found’ a plastic container packed with 35 pounds of marijuana submerged in gasoline within a gas tank. There’s the black lab stray from the streets of Seattle that can detect floating orca scat from up to a mile away across the choppy waters of Puget Sound.”
And yes, there are the dogs who have sniffed out medical issues that even doctors weren’t aware of. Dogs can pick up on tiny changes in the human body, from a tiny shift in our hormones to the release of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, released by cancer cells. Researchers and dog trainers are just beginning to understand how dogs do this and how we might put them to work in being our helpers in health care. Here are six medical conditions that dogs are able to smell.
Perhaps the condition dogs are currently most famous for detecting is cancer. Dogs have been able to sniff out a variety of types including skin cancer, breast cancer and bladder cancer.
There are quite a few stories of a pet dog obsessing about an owner’s mole or some part of their body, only to discover in a doctor’s appointment that the dog was actually sensing cancer. For example, Canada Free Press writes of a 1989 instance when a woman’s “dog kept sniffing at a mole on her thigh, but ignored other moles. In fact, the dog had actually tried to bite off the mole when she was wearing shorts. The woman consulted her doctor, the mole was excised and the diagnosis confirmed a malignant melanoma.”
In the last couple decades, researchers have looked seriously into dogs’ sniffing abilities when it comes to cancers. In studies, dogs have successfully been trained to detect the disease using samples from known cancer patients and people without cancer.
The newest study offers the most startling statistics: Dogs can correctly pick out blood samples from people who have cancer with 97% accuracy, a 2019 study published in Experimental Biology found. Heather Junqueira, the lead researcher at BioScentDx who performed the study, used clicker training with four beagles. The dogs focused their efforts on blood samples from patients with lung cancer, and with one exception, they were highly successful. The sample was small, so BioScentDx plans to continue its work, according to Science Daily.
In a 2006 study, five dogs were trained to detect cancer based on breath samples. Once trained, the dogs were able to detect breast cancer with 88 percent accuracy, and lung cancer with 99 percent accuracy. They could do this across all four stages of the diseases.
Sometimes the dogs can do an even better job than the humans in these studies. According to Penn State News, Nancy Dreschel, a veterinarian in Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University, tells of an illuminating example: “A scientist was training dogs to detect bladder cancer in humans by smelling their urine. She said a dog alerted them to a sample from a supposedly healthy person who was being used as a control. On reexamination that person was found to have bladder cancer, so the dog caught it before anyone else did.”
Study after study has shown that dogs can detect cancer in people, but it may a while before your doctor employs a hound for your annual checkup. Researchers still don’t know exactly what chemical compounds for different types of cancers the dogs are sensing in these samples to alert to the presence of the disease, and this remains a hurdle both for better training of cancer-sniffing dogs and for creating machines that can more accurately detect cancer in the early stages.
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that affects the ability to control sleep-wake cycles. This can mean a person suddenly falls asleep, even in the middle of a task. It’s a dangerous condition, as someone who has an attack could be injured falling to the ground or could have a car accident if it happens while driving.
Mary McNeight, Service Dog Academy director of training and behavior, has been working with narcolepsy service dogs since 2010, and she notes that there’s a scent the dogs pick up on when an attack is coming on. “It’s a biochemical change in the body. We do not know what the particular odor smells like due to the difference between human scent perception and dog scent perception,” she tells Sleep Review.
In a study published in 2013, Luis Dominguez-Ortega, M.D., Ph.D., found that two trained dogs detected 11 of 12 narcolepsy patients using sweat samples, demonstrating that dogs can detect a distinct scent for the disorder.
Service dogs help people with narcolepsy by performing several different types of tasks. They can stand over the person’s lap when an attack comes on, which prevents them from sliding out of a chair onto the floor; they can also stand over the person to protect them if they are out in public, or they can go get help. And most importantly, they can provide a warning up to 5 minutes before an attack comes on, giving their handler a chance to get to a safe place or a safe position.
While large dogs can be helpful in giving a narcoleptic sufferer extra support in balance and mobility after an attack, these dogs don’t have to be big. According to Petful, even medium-sized dogs can do the job. “Theo, a 2-year-old cocker spaniel, has virtually put an end to [Kelly] Sears’ suffering. He can sense when she is about to have a narcoleptic episode and warn her so that she can sit or lie down, waking her after a few seconds with a kiss on her chin. Since arriving two months ago from Medical Detection Dogs, the only organization in Europe that trains narcolepsy service dogs, Theo has proven himself indispensable.”
For those who suffer migraines, having a warning before one comes on can mean the difference between managing the problem or succumbing to hours or days of intense pain. Fortunately, some dogs have a talent for sniffing out the signs that a migraine is on the way.
Psychology Today reports on a recent study that asked migraine sufferers with dogs if they noticed a change in their dogs’ behavior before or during a migraine. The results show that “54 percent of the 1027 participants indicated they had noticed changes in the behavior of their pets during or preceding migraines. Nearly 60 percent of these subjects indicated that their dog had alerted them to the onset of a headache — usually an hour or two in advance.” The results are fascinating, though it’s important to point out that the study was conducted with self-reports rather than observation by researchers. Even so, the study shows evidence that many dogs seem to detect and point out a change in their human companion’s health.
According to Kendall Winship, a migraine sufferer with a service dog, “These [migraine alert service] dogs are highly valued because the ability to tell when a migraine is approaching is an innate talent; it can’t be taught. Similar to diabetic alert dogs that can smell when their handler has low blood sugar, migraine alert dogs can hone in on the scent of serotonin, a chemical that skyrockets when the body is about to have a migraine. By alerting to the danger long before their handlers might feel any symptoms, these dogs can warn them to take preventative medication. When Rally looks up at me and whines, I know I have about two hours before the migraine will strike, and if I can take my medication early enough, I might be able to avoid the stroke-like symptoms and incapacitating pain.”
Low blood sugar
Increasingly, dogs are helping diabetics know when their blood sugar level is dropping or spiking. Dogs4Diabetics is one organization that trains and places service dogs with insulin-dependent diabetics. These dogs undergo extensive training to be able to detect and alert their handlers to changes in blood sugar levels.
A 2016 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that the dogs detect isoprene, a common natural chemical found in human breath that rises significantly during episode of low blood sugar. People can’t detect the chemical, but the researchers believe that the dogs are particularly sensitive to it and can tell when their owner’s breath has high levels of it.
Medical News Today reports that dogs are trained to discriminate between the scent from a previous episode and the scent of a current episode. They detect when their handler is having an issue and alert the person, giving them time to test their blood sugar and take the insulin they need.
A 2013 study published in PLOS One showed that having a diabetic alert dog seems to provide significant improvements in both the safety and quality of life of insulin-dependent diabetics. “Since obtaining their dog, all 17 clients studied reported positive effects including reduced paramedic call outs, decreased unconscious episodes and improved independence.”
There’s still some skepticism about whether or not dogs can accurately alert handlers to a blood sugar change at a level beyond chance, something that can be determined with more studies. Even so, for those diabetics living with alert dogs, the sniffing ability of their companions seems to be a big help.
One of the more controversial areas where dogs are used to alert to a medical condition is with seizures. There is growing evidence that dogs can and do detect the onset of a seizure; however, the level of accuracy and, most importantly, our ability to train dogs to alert a handler to an oncoming seizure remains a bit questionable.
As is the case with some other conditions, dogs cannot be trained to predict seizures. We don’t have a way to provide them with a scent or information that can be used for training. We can, however, train dogs how to respond to and assist a handler when a seizure occurs. Some service dogs that are placed with seizure patients do develop the ability to detect when a seizure is coming and can provide an alert if the handler pays close attention to the signals the dog provides. WebMD reports, “Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistants in Georgia, … says about nine out of 10 of the service dogs her organization has placed develop the ability on their own within a year of placement.”
A small 2019 study found that dogs were able to clearly discriminate a general epileptic “seizure odor.” However the study only involved a handful of dogs and involved odor samples that were collected during a seizure. Researchers pointed out that much more extensive testing would need to be done to see if other dogs would respond similarly and if dogs could predict seizures before they happened.
However, there is some question about how dogs are responding. How Stuff Workspoints out that in 2007, “two small studies in the journal Neurology reported that four out of seven seizure alert dogs studied turned out to be warning their masters of psychological, rather than epileptic seizures. This may not seem like a big deal, but the two disorders are different. A 2006 study revealed that up to 30 percent of patients who suffer from psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are misdiagnosed with epilepsy. PNES, which results from emotional difficulties and can often be successfully treated with counseling, rather than unnecessary and harsh epilepsy drugs. The 2007 study also revealed one instance of seizures being triggered by the patient’s dog’s warning behaviors, indicating another flaw in the reliability of canine seizure prediction.”
A 2003 study concluded that “findings suggest some dogs have innate ability to alert and/or respond to seizures” however, it notes that further research is needed to uncover which seizure patients would benefit from the help of a dog. We also need more research to learn how to train dogs to be as effective as possible. We have to first learn how dogs know when a seizure is coming — are they smelling a change in body chemistry, or are they picking up on behavior changes? — before we can reliably train them to alert handlers before a seizure happens.
Fear and stress
The age-old notion that dogs can smell fear is an accurate one. Dogs can smell when we are feeling fear or are experiencing an increased level of stress, even if we aren’t showing outward signs. What dogs are smelling is the surge of hormones our bodies release to respond to stressful situations, including adrenalin and cortisol.
Thankfully, this can be used to humans’ benefit, as dogs can signal a handler that they (or someone else) needs to take a few deep breaths. Dogs that alert handlers of the change in their emotional state — a change that often people aren’t even aware they’re experiencing — can help prevent panic attacks and other possible episodes associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues.
“This 18-month Rhodesian ridgeback is the first cortisol-sniffing dog on staff at a school. Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone,’ and people on the autism spectrum tend to have higher levels of cortisol in their blood. Cali is employed to detect rising cortisol levels in the students. She waits outside of school each morning as the students file by. If she notices anyone with a high level of cortisol in their blood, she will signal to her handler, Casey Butler, a health teacher on staff at The Calais School who is a certified specialist in natural canine behavior rehabilitation and in animal adaptive therapy. When Cali stares at a child, Butler knows that is the signal. She then takes that child aside and works with him or her before a meltdown occurs.”
We still have a long way to go to discover exactly what dogs are smelling about us, let alone how we can train them to be as accurate as possible about a change in our bodies. Even though many details are not yet known, it’s clear that dogs have an uncanny ability to sniff out certain medical issues, and that’s a skill that could be a real lifesaver.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016 and has been updated with new information.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the shorter, darker days of winter many of us turn lethargic and gloomy. But seasonal affective disorder (SAD) isn’t just a human affliction. The animals we share our lives with may also suffer from something akin to the “winter blues.”
Here’s what experts know about SAD in pets and what you can do to alleviate it. (Hint: Some of the same things that counteract seasonal depression in people also work for our four-legged companions.)
Starting in fall as the days get shorter and sunlight levels decline, many people notice their mood begins to dip. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD isn’t just a weather-related funk, but a type of depression that fluctuates with the seasons and causes unpleasant symptoms like sluggishness, increased appetite, depression, social withdrawal and even suicidal thoughts in the most severe cases. It’s believed that lower light levels prompt a decline in the feel-good brain hormone serotonin and boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
No surprise then that pets, with their similar brain chemistry, may also suffer from the same kind of seasonal hormonal havoc.
Not a lot of research has been done on pets, but a survey by a veterinary charity in the U.K. called the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) found that one in three dog owners noticed their pooch seemed down during the winter months. Symptoms ranged from aggressive behavior, inappropriate soiling and less interest in going for walks to lethargy, demand for more attention and increased sleep.
Cats also apparently get the winter blues. One-third of cat owners in the same survey said their felines seemed glum in the winter and about one-quarter said their pet ate more.
Is it real?
There’s plenty of evidence that animals suffer from physical afflictions related to seasonal sun deprivation. One is called light responsive alopecia (fur loss that occurs in certain dog breeds during the winter months). But there’s not yet any hard science on whether pets actually experience SAD. Remember, the U.K. study was subjective, based on pet owners’ perceptions rather than rigorous research.
One alternate explanation for SAD-like symptoms in cats and dogs is that they’re picking up on the blue moods of their owners. Studies show that dogs, in particular, recognize human emotions and respond to them.
Or perhaps pets are merely bored during the winter months when they can’t get outside as much. Lack of physical and mental stimulation may push them into listlessness.
Remedies for winter doldrums
Whether pets are prone to SAD like humans are or they slip into a seasonal slump for other reasons, there are ways to keep their spirits high during the chilly season. In fact, the same fixes that help people beat winter depression might also help their animal companions maintain a brighter mood. Here are some simple things you and your pet can try together.
More indoor light. Open your curtains and shades during the day to let in natural light. Position your pet’s bed near a sunny window and be sure to hang out there, too. Also consider light therapy that mimics sunlight. Buy a full-spectrum light box that covers the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to near-ultraviolet and plant yourself and your pet in front of it for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
Spend quality indoor time together. Engage your pet more when you’re inside during the winter months with new toys, extra play and increased cuddle time. Multitask by enjoying these activities in front of the light box.
Enjoy the outdoors. Take advantage of mood-boosting sunny days by letting your pet go outside during peak daylight hours. Better yet, join in for a romp in the yard or a walk in the park (cats can be leash trained). Outdoor time has the added advantage of allowing pets (and you) to exercise, take in stimulating neighborhood sights and socialize with other people and animals. All are known blues busters.
Whether or not pets suffer from this disorder isn’t really known, “Whether pets are prone to SAD like humans are or they slip into a seasonal slump for other reasons, ” the fact remains that the winter months for some dogs do have the cause to provide a slump. Whether you have one pets or quite a few, keep a close watch of them and love them through and through.