Want To Improve Your Health? Get a Dog!

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Dogs are a man’s best friend – we all know that. Dog-lovers all over the world will tell you what a pleasure it is in life to have a dog.

A dog is a member of the family. Not only do they give you unconditional love, they are great listeners, always want to play and guard your house as well.

But did you know that dogs could actually protect your heart? Well, not just your heart; they can also improve your health! You may be surprised to hear that the domestic dog may prevent us from getting ill, speed up our recovery from illnesses and even predict underlying illnesses!

By the way, to make this article totally ‘awesome’, we have included images of some really cute pups and dogs that our readers have so kindly agreed for us to share (thank you!).

Right, let’s take a look at how dogs can improve your health.

1. Dogs make you walk more

Dogs love to go for their walks. This walk can be made into a great exercise routine by extending it to a 30 minute period per day.

Studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, regularly walking the dog has also been shown in clinical studies to improve heart health. One particular study showed that dog-owners were 54% more likely to get the recommended exercise when compared to those who did not own dogs.

Walking with your dog will also give you the require exposure to sunlight, which in turn can increase the amount of vitamin D in your body. Vitamin D can increase the strength of bones by holding onto calcium. Its a great way to prevent and treat osteoporosis (bone thinning or ‘brittle bone disease’).

Oh, and by the way, you (and your pet) will lose weight too 🙂

Remember, it does not matter whether it is a slow or fast walk, or a long or short walk; even a recreational walk with your dog can improve the health of your heart and body.

2. Dogs can help reduce blood pressure

Owning a dog and petting a dog can have a calming effect on the body. This in turn can reduce blood pressure to a small extent. A study looking at nearly 250 married couples found that those who were pet owners had a lower blood pressure than those who did not own pets.

Combine this with regular dog walks and you are looking at further improvements in your blood pressure.

dogs improve heart health

3. Dogs can help reduce your cholesterol

It has been shown that dogs can reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood stream.

In a study performed by Anderson et al, lower levels of triglycerides (a type of blood fat that can increase risk of heart disease) were found in senior citizens who owned a dog.

Fascinating Fact! The Mexican Hairless dog called ‘Xolo’ generates so much body heat that it can soothe joint pains in patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Trained Xolo dogs can even sit around a person’s neck and relieve neck pain!

4. Dogs can reduce your stress levels

Having a dog can reduce the levels of cortisol in your blood, which in turn can reduce stress levels.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is responsible for a number of changes in the body during stress. Stress has been shown to have a detrimental effect on the heart, and reducing stress levels can in turn decrease the chances of developing heart attacks, high blood pressure and stroke.

how a dog can save your heart

Dogs can also elevate the levels of serotonin in the blood; a chemical compound that can relax you.

Petting and hugging (and even kissing) your dog can release a hormone called ‘oxytocin’. This hormone plays an important role in bonding and love (oxytocin is sometimes called the ‘love hormone’); both emotions are related to reduced stress levels.

In a way, dogs can be great to help you through hard times and depression.

5. Dogs can improve the behavior of children

Hard to believe we know! But studies have shown that boys in particular can develop emotions such as nurturing by watching their pets behave. Owning a pet is a responsibility, and looking after a dog can teach children responsibility.

Clinical studies have shown that just having a dog (or other pets) at home can have a positive effect on the attitudes of children and can increase their ability to relate to others.

Dogs and pets can also reduce the blood pressure in children. Papers have been published assessing improved social interaction amongst pet owners, and this can be a great way to enhance your child’s social skills. Dogs play an important role of treating children who have autism.

Interestingly, children who grow up in a household with a dog are less likely to develop allergies! The immune response is stronger and the ability to fight infections is more powerful.

6. Dogs can improve your survival after a heart attack

Owning a pet (particularly dogs) has been shown to improve 1 year survival in patients who have suffered a heart attack. It appears that pet ownership is an independent factor in this improved dogs can prevent heart diseasesurvival and is independent of how severe the heart attack is.

One of the reasons is the reduced stress levels and better blood pressure control. Another reason would be the exercise required daily to walk a dog.

However, it is not recommended that you get yourself a dog for the sole purposes of reducing the risk as you may not be ready to take on the responsibility it takes to look after them.

7. Dogs can help treat depression

Many psychiatrists abroad now ‘prescribe’ a pet to individuals who are depressed. Owning a dog is believed to have a calming effect on the mind, and the unconditional love received in return can have a soothing effect on the soul.

In many hospitals across the UK and USA, elderly patients who are ill or depressed often get a visit from a hospital volunteer with a trained Golden Retriever. The sheer cuteness of these dogs and the love that they show is enough to brighten up anyone’s day!

Owning a dog can also reduce the feeling of isolation in depressed patients. You can sit and talk to your dog, and he/she will just listen. Its a great way to get things off your chest after a long day!

8. Dogs can tell you when your sugars are low

Low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) in humans gives off a scent that dogs can smell. It is believed that dogs can detect this well in advance and can warn their owners before the blood sugar drops down to dangerous levels.

In a study published by Stocks et al, out of 106 dog owners who had diabetes (needing insulin therapy) and hypoglycemia, nearly 68% of the dogs demonstrated altered behavior at the time of a hypoglycemic episode in the owner. Dogs would growl, bite, nuzzle and lick at these times, warning their owners of impending low sugar levels.

One theory as to how dogs can detect low blood sugar levels in their owners is the change in their smell due to sweating, muscle shakes and changes in behavior of the human.

It is this behavior that has now led organisations in the western world to train dogs to detect low blood sugar levels in patients with type 1 diabetes.

9. Dogs can detect seizures (fits) in humans

It is unlikely that the domestic, untrained dog can do much during a seizure attack in it’s owner. It is also possible that the sudden jerky movements seen in the person suffering from the fit can confuse the animal, causing an unpredictable response.

There are now ‘seizure-alert’ dogs that can detect seizures in their owners. These are trained dogs that can detect the onset of seizures 15 to 45 minutes before hand! In fact, studies have clearly can dogs reduce depression?demonstrated that seizure alert dogs can reduce the frequency of seizures by an average of 43%.

10. Dogs can help rehabilitation in stroke patients

In patients who have suffered a stroke, the sheer devastation of the diagnosis can lead to low mood and depression. Rehabilitation can take a long time, and it can really try an individual’s patience. Furthermore, a small number of people who suffer a stroke do not recover.

Observational studies have shown that having a dog by your side when undergoing rehabilitation can be a positive thing for patients. Some feel more relaxed, some feel more motivated and some just feel a lot more comfortable with a cute and loving dog around.

A dog is for life……

If you ever plan to get a dog, then remember what they say – “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”.

Taking care of a dog is like taking care of a child – they require constant feeding, washing, grooming and walking. In return, they show you a level of unconditional love you could never fathom. Added bonus is the effect your dog will have on your health.

Charities to support

If you are a dog lover, then why not support any of these charities? They do some great work with looking after dogs, nursing them back to health and finding them new homes with loving owners.

1. Voice of Stray Dogs

Voice of stray dogs heartsense

 

 

 

2. Precious Paws Foundation

precious paws

 

 

 

 

3. Charlie’s Animal Rescue CentrE (CARE)

CARE

 

 

References
1. Levine, Glenn N., et al. “Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.” Circulation 127.23 (2013): 2353-2363.

2. Wells, Deborah L. “Domestic dogs and human health: An overview.” British journal of health psychology 12.1 (2007): 145-156.

3. Katcher AH, Beck AM, eds. 1983. New28a Perspectives on Our Lives with Companion Animals.Philadelphia: Univ.Pennsylvania Press.588pp.

4. Stocks AE (2002) Can dogs help patients with hypoglycaemia? Diabetologia 45:A79

5. Strong, Val, et al. “Effect of trained Seizure Alert Dogs® on frequency of tonic–clonic seizures.” Seizure 11.6 (2002): 402-405.

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Dr Vivek Baliga B
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