The pangs in my heart knew what my brain didn’t. It was unconditional love, devoted companionship, and the constant entertainment that doesn’t fail when a rainstorm or FP&L (also known as Florida Flash and Flicker) has a power failure. Having a dog was essential not just for my emotions but for my health. However, being married to a scientist I wanted to scientifically “prove” (o.k., justify) the benefits of loving a dog. And here is what I found doing some research.
- Dogs relieve stress. Playing with a dog or even petting a dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate. A study in the 1980’s at both the University of Pennsylvania and Purdue showed a reduction in levels of stress hormones even in those requiring medication.
- Dogs are good for heart heath. A study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that patients who were pet owners had a much higher rate of survival than non-pet owners.
- Dog’s sense of smell can keep you healthy. Dogs can be trained to detect various forms of cancer, sniff out slightest traces of peanuts and alert diabetics to a low blood sugar level. Alzheimer’s patients are soothed by dogs, whose companionship also seems and affect emotional flare-ups and aggression.
- Reduction in Doctor Visits. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology established that animal owning seniors on Medicare “reported fewer doctor contacts over a 1 year period than non-dog owners.” Owners of dogs over cats, birds and other animals were less affected from the impact of stressful life events.
- Dogs make us happy. A 2009 study from Japan found that simply staring into your dog’s eyes raises your level of oxytocin, a hormone which can promote feelings of love and well-being. Other studies have shown owning a dog can alleviate depression especially in older adults.
- Dogs make us more social. The mere need of taking your dog for a walk increases the likelihood of meeting and socializing with others. While aging can make meeting people more difficult, a study at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University concluded that “people who have a strong attachment to a pet report that they feel more connected in their human relationships and communities.”
- Dogs keep you fit and active. Health experts recommend adult get 2.5 hours’ worth of moderate exercise per week. Dog owners are likely to hit and surpass that goal. A Canadian study showed that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, while non-dog owners walk an average of 168 minutes a week. And walking Fido may actually help you drop some weight! In 2010 a small study discovered public housing residents who walked “loaner” dogs five times a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of the year.
- Dogs add meaning and purpose to our lives. As we grow older we may find it difficult to find structure and meaning in our day to day lives. Dogs force us to continue to do things even when we don’t feel well emotionally or physically. Dogs help prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness and help us not to just focus on our needs but on “man’s best friend”.
One thing my research did uncover was the possibility of falling because of a pet. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), over 86,000 falls per year are caused by pets – 88% by dogs. As Thad and I are in the older category where falling can be a distinct possibility, we will need to be ever attentive to our dog’s whereabouts. I am not too worried, as I plan to spend a lot of time watching her rather than the TV.
So maybe it’s just not my heart that knew what I needed. Maybe it was also my physical body that was seeking a way to be healthier. Either way, I am blessed.
Armed with this information, I feel ready to prove my case that sharing our lives with a dog will be the healthiest thing Thad and I can do. Although I might leave out the research on the CDC’s falling statistic when pleading my case.
Check in next week to see what decision we make.
What benefits have you found in having a dog for a pet? What shenanigans have you experienced with your dog and how did you address them? Share your stories and advice so we can benefit from your wise counsel.
“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”
– Bruce Cameron (author of A Dog’s Purpose)
For more information check out these articles from The 10 Health Benefits of Dogs (And One Health Risk), Grandparents.com Kristen Sturt and 8 Science-Based Benefits of Having a Dog by AKC Staff, Nov 2, 2017.