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The research on the positive impact of human-canine relationships on health is extensive. For nearly 25 years, research had indicated that living with pets can have a positive influence on a person’s health. Although all pets to some degree improve an individual’s health, dogs in particular have been studied.
Dogs allow improved independence and mobility for the blind. They are used as service dogs with people that suffer from epilepsy because they are able to detect seizures before they come. Dogs lower their owner’s blood pressure, significantly reduce anxiety, and boost immunity.
A growing number of studies suggest that children who grow up with animals will have less risk of asthma and allergies. In a recent study, researcher James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, analyzed the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later. He was looking for evidence of an allergic reaction, immunity changes, and for reactions to bacteria in the environment. The results may surprise you. If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies – 19 percent vs. 33 percent. They also were less likely to have eczema, a common allergy skin condition that causes red patches and itching. In addition, they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals — a sign of stronger immune system activation.
Studies have also shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Walking a dog or just caring for a pet — for elderly people who are able — can provide exercise and companionship. Elderly that have a pet are less likely to feel depressed and are more likely to have fewer hospital stays than their petless counterparts.
Although, not as studied as some other areas, research also suggests that owning a dog can help prevent diabetes. According to research by exercise scientist Cindy Lentino, dog owners who regularly walk their dogs had about one-third of the risk of diabetes in comparison to non-dog walkers. Dog owners also had additional signs of good health not seen in the non-dog walking group, like lower rates of depression.
Pet owners are likely to have better mental health than those who don’t own a pet. In one study, stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did people without pets.
Studies show a link between these stressful chemicals, Cortisol and norepinephrine, and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.
Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties, Justice said. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.
Heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without, according to several studies. Male pet owners have less sign of heart disease — lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels — than non-owners, researchers say. According to preventive cardiologist Barry Franklin, Ph.D., of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, patients with heart disease who have dogs and walk them have a better prognosis.