Health Benefits of Dog Ownership

Anecdotal and scientific evidence shows that dog owners tend to be healthier than the average person. Here are some of the health benefits of dog ownership...

Researchers are learning of the many medical, social and physiological benefits companionship with animals can bring us. Here are some of the ways living with a dog keeps you healthy and happy…

Less childhood allergies

The 'Hygiene Hypothesis' suggests early childhood exposure to animals can help mature a child's immune system, giving them a better ability to tolerate allergens. Children born into homes with two or more dogs have been shown to have fewer allergies.

Research published in the American Journal of Paediatrics in 2011 showed that children were significantly less likely to develop eczema by age 4 if they began mingling with dogs at infancy. In fact, even for kids sensitive to dog allergens, having a dog did not increase their risk of developing eczema.

Specialist Therapy Dogs and Sniffer Dogs

We have no doubt all seen the awesome border security dogs that work at our airports. But there is a larger pool of lesser known dogs that are trained to help their owners in difficult situations.

Seizure dogs are trained to recognise subtle behaviour or body language changes during seizure events. Mobility dogs such as those provided by the great team at Mobility Dogs NZ enhance the lives of people living with physical disabilities, increasing independence, confidence and self esteem. Specialist Sniffer dogs such as those trained to identify the trace presence of peanuts in a biscuit or a chocolate bar are a great help for owners with severe nut allergies.

Some dogs are even capable of identifying early stages of cancer. In a study at Kyushu University in Japan, eight-year-old Marine, a black Labrador, was used to identify cancerous tumours. In the breath tests she picked out the cancer sample 33 out of 36 times and with the stool samples, she found 37 out of 38 cancers.

Dr Hideto Sonoda comments "the specific cancer scent indeed exists, but the chemical compounds are not clear. Only the dog knows the true answer."

Reduction in levels of anxiety and stress

Studies consistently show that pet ownership can lower stress and anxiety, decrease blood pressure and therefore help avoid anxiety-related illnesses. Animals offer a non-judgmental support system that can help owners handle daily stressors.

Even the act of stroking a dog has been shown to cause the release of neurochemicals associated with relaxation.

Better social lives

The more social circles a person has in life can be correlated to their overall happiness and health - try walking a dog without at least one or two people coming to say hello! Dogs are a great conversation starter and can help people build friendships as well.

According to a 2005 review in the British Medical Journal, dogs act as "social catalysts" leading to greater interaction between people and alleviating feelings of loneliness, especially among elderly patients with physical disabilities.

Weight loss through increased activity

This will be no surprise to owners that frequently walk or exercise with their dogs. Dogs love initiating activity and people that own dogs are more likely to get out and exercise. Because obesity is a risk factor for many major health problems, staying leaner by walking your pets regularly can help prevent disease.

A study conducted at the University of Victoria in Canada found that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with non-dog owners, who walked an average of 168 minutes per week. And this exercise encouragement extends to your kids.

The American Journal of Public Health reports that children with dogs spent more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than children without dogs.

So, from the more serious side of disease detection to the many benefits associated with a walk on a crisp Autumn day, our four legged friends can certainly provide us with quite the natural health tonic! So get out there as much as you can and you will both enjoy the benefits.