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Most people fall into two major camps when it comes to pet ownership: cat people or dog people — even though a few straddle the line and love life with both cats and dogs.
The fact is, whichever side of the fence you’re on, there are definite benefits to health and well-being that accompany owning either type of furry friend.
But dogs are more like children. They need us more, which inspires a dynamic that carries with it very real perks for both physical and mental health.
Here are 7 proven ways that having a dog can make life better…
- More bacterial variety. Believe it or not, we don’t need to rid our bodies and our environment of every last bacteria. Research shows that living in a bacteria-free, sterile environment actually causes greater susceptibility to bacterial illnesses.
- Fewer allergies. Spending over 90 percent of our time in a bacteria-poor environment indoors, especially early in life, can cause our bodies to overreact to harmless substances later in life, bringing on allergies and autoimmune disease.
A 2016 study found that Amish children in Indiana who grew up around a variety of animals had far lower rates of asthma than Hutterite children, who were raised apart from animals on more modern farms in North Dakota.
According to Jack Gilbert, co-author of the study, the solution for modern children is to “bring the farm to them” by having them live with pets.
- Better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate. A 2017 Chinese study found a connection between owning a dog and having lower risk of coronary artery disease. Other studies show that pet owners are more likely to survive a heart attack.
- Dogs can sniff out cancer. A dog’s nose has 300 million sensors, compared to our five million. They also have a second smelling organ in the back of their nose called Jacobson’s organ.
This doubled sense of smell allows trained dogs to sniff out the volatile organic compounds in cancers that give them unique odors we humans can’t detect.
There are many stories of dogs who insistently nosed a mole or spot on their owner’s body, later found to be cancerous.
- More exercise. Dogs must be walked, and larger breeds require even more exercise. This forces dog owners to get out and move, perhaps as much as thirty minutes a day, doing wonders for their heart, lungs, bones and immune system.
According to a 2017 study, adults 65 and over who own a dog tend to walk an extra 22 minutes a day over those without dogs. Pet owners may even walk faster with their puppy companions, which can boost longevity by as much as 50 percent.
- Greater happiness. Studies have found that dog owners are less lonely, less prone to overwhelming stress, and less likely to experience depression. In particular, single adults and women are less likely to be depressed if they are dog owners.
- Better social connections. Associate Professor Lisa Wood of the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health analyzed the results from telephone interviews with people living in Perth, as well as San Diego, Nashville, and Portland.
She found that pet owners were significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners. In the three U.S. cities, dog owners were significantly more likely than owners of other types of pets to regard people they met through their pet as a friend.
Social isolation is an issue in many large communities and is highly associated with mental illness. In this study, around 40 percent of pet owners reported receiving some form of social or emotional support from people they met through their pet.
If you do decide to bring home a four-legged friend, consider getting one from a local animal shelter. There are dogs of all ages out there just waiting for a loving home, but senior pets are typically overlooked. So if you have it in your heart to take one (or two) in, they’ll pay you back with years of health and happiness.
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- How Dogs Can Sniff Out Diabetes and Cancer — National Geographic Society
- Meet the dogs who can sniff out cancer better than some lab tests — CNN
- Dog Bacteria Bring Potentially Beneficial Biodiversity To Owners’ Homes, Study Shows — Huffington Post
- Are Pets the New Probiotic? — The New York Times
- Dogs Help With Depression — FYI Living