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The Health Benefits of Owning a Dog

11 April 2016

Dogs are funny, uplifting and sometimes seem to understand us in a way no other human can. Over and over again, science is continuing to prove that our furry friends offer us much more than companionship.

Fairmont, a hotel group with a soft spot for dogs, have recently published a longform article where they explore the long list of benefits dogs can bring to our lives.

Below is a list of ways in which having a dog around can affect your health for the better.

Get tress-free smiles

Simply by sharing our homes, pets can help ease our distress and lower our blood pressure. As early as 2001, scientists realized that dog owners seemed to maintain lower blood pressure during times of mental stress as patients without dogs. Playing or petting a dog increases the levels of the happiness hormone oxytocin and decreases the levels of cortisol, which is responsible for feelings of stress thereby leading to a happier mood.

Wave goodbye to sneezes

Recently, a study involving 470 children produced evidence that growing up in households with dogs seemed to lessen the risk of developing allergies by up to 77%. The result are thought to be linked to the “hygiene hypothesis”- the concept that the bacteria carried by pets helps fire up the immune system while it is still getting established, making your kids better able to resist allergens they meet later in life.

For people already suffering from allergies, dogs can help. With help of their amazing sense of smell, dogs can be trained to sniff out dangerous allergens and warn us about them. 

Keeps you company

The phrase “a man’s best friend” did not appear out of nowhere. We can feel incredibly emotional ties you our pets, our confidantes and they never judge our transgressions.

Social interaction is good for us and can be really powerful for older people experiencing loneliness and other difficulties. Additionally, people who find social interaction difficult may be able to build valuable relationships with an animal.

Love your pet, love yourself

Dog owners are found to show a number of improved psychological states that may help ease and prevent anxiety. This includes better self-esteem, less fearfulness and greater social support. Linked research identified the ability for pets to provide support and diminish the negativity caused by social rejection.

Especially in the case of people with psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety disorders, dogs can learn to tell when their human companion is feeling anxious or paranoid.

Keep your heart healthy

Many different scientific studies have explored the relationship between heart disease and pet ownership with numerous beneficial effects being reported. For example, a major study of nearly 6,000 participants found that male dog owners have lower blood cholesterol (201 versus 206 mg/dL) and triglyceride levels (108 versus 125 mg/dL) than non-dog owners. Findings also indicate that pets can help us recover from heart attacks.

Research has also shown that dog ownership can lead to a decrease in a person's heart rate and improve the hearts reactivity to stressful situations. 

Keeps you calm

For people suffering from anxiety or ADHD, a dog might be just what you need. For people with ADHD, dog owning can provide tasks that are regularly conducted on a pet care schedule, like walking, grooming or feeding, which forces sufferers to learn how to plan and be responsible whilst it being very rewarding.

Walk your way to fitness

It might not come as a surprise to you that dog owners are more physically active. In the 2005 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, the odds of obtaining at least 150 minutes walking time per week were 34% higher for dog walkers and the odds of doing any physical activity were 69% higher.

This increased activity has benefits throughout the body. Assuming that you walk regularly with your dog and at a brisk pace, this can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and even lessen the risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease as much as high intensity running can according to a study conducted at Berkeley, California.

How can dogs help?

Dogs boast numerous natural talents, including an incredible sense of smell to a caring and protective nature and with extensive training, these talents can be harnessed and used effectively by the medical or assistance industries.

The ultimate guard dog

Dogs are not just ideal for guarding our houses and families, but their phenomenal smell could one day save your life in a completely different way. Indeed, science have found that dogs have the potential to sniff out cancer.

Autism assistance dogs

Dogs can be trained to provide support to those with autism and allow them to live a more independent life.

A fully trained autism dog can help people suffering with autism by introducing routines, reducing bolting behaviors, interrupting repetitive behaviors and helping a child with autism cope with unfamiliar surroundings.

Severe allergy alert dogs

Allergy dogs are trained to detect specific substances that can trigger someone to have an allergic reaction or to go into anaphylactic shock. One of the most commonly found allergy dogs are trained specifically to detect peanuts.

These 'Peanut dogs' use their incredible sense of smell to detect even the smallest quantities of the nut, whether it be raw, cooked, in oil, butter or dust, in order to prevent a life threatening allergic reaction.

Alzheimer dogs

Ever had a conversation with your pet? You are not the only one!

Animals often seem able to draw people with dementia out of their internal world in a way that carers and other humans cannot. It has been shown that therapy with dogs can increase morale, eating habits and positively affect the overall health in people with Alzheimer's disease. Research at the University of California at Davis concluded that Alzheimer's patients suffer less stress and have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a dog or cat in their home.

These dogs are trained to perform tasks such as reminding their owner to take certain medications and to encourage them to eat, drink and sleep at regular intervals. They help maintain routine which can be crucial for those with dementia as well as encourage them to get out of the house to walk and exercise the dog, thereby increasing social interaction whilst providing silent support.

Diabetic alert dogs

Dogs have been trained to be able to smell a drop in a human's blood sugar, which is very important if you happen to be diabetic. It has been said that these dogs can sniff out these drops with 90% accuracy.

They are able to do this because when the body's blood sugar level changes the body's metabolism alters along with it, leading to changes in the way a person's sweat or breath smells. As dogs have a sense of smell that is, depending on the breed, between 1,000 - 10,000 times better than humans, this is fairly easy for a dog to detect.

PTSD dogs

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can be triggered by a traumatic event taking place. As discussed above, dogs have an amazing ability to calm people and reduce stress by increasing the production of the hormone serotonin.

These dogs are trained to provide a sense of security and calm the owner. They are taught to be able to identify certain traits, according to their future owner's needs. Training is separated into two areas called 'environmental assessment', such as paranoia and hallucinations, and 'signaling behaviors', including injurious behavior, guiding the owner away from a stressful situation or retrieving objects.

In fact, these dogs have proved to be so beneficial to PTSD sufferers, that there is now a team of 'Disaster Stress Relief Dogs' in the USA that are deployed after any major traumatic event to provide a comforting face and calming effect.

Seizure response & alert dogs

Seizure alert and response dogs are trained not only to respond to a seizure but sometimes, where possible, to predict them.

Seizure alert dogs are trained to predict an oncoming seizure and can then alert the owner who is then able to find somewhere that is safe for when it does eventually happen. There is a theory that these dogs can detect a seizure through a number of signals including micro expressions made by the owner, a change in the scent of an owner or sensing a disturbance in the electric field around them which can be caused by a seizure.

A seizure response dog, however, provides a role of safety and comfort for those going through a seizure. The response can range from the dog lying down next to a person having a seizure in order to prevent them injuring themselves if they thrash out, to barking to alert family members.

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