Feeling Down? Your Dog Offers More Help Than You Might Think

If you’ve got a companion animal in your life, there’s no doubt you understand the unconditional love and happiness they bring to each day. And if you don’t, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to.

Aside from being great friends, pets improve our lives by keeping us healthy in a surprising number of ways. From making sure their humans are active, to calming them down in times of stress, animals deserve more credit than they receive.

“We found that pet owners, on average, were better off than non-owners, especially when they have a higher-quality relationship with their pets,” researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD told PetMD. “What [makes] a meaningful relationship varies from person to person.”

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It’s a role they’ve been filling for over 15,000 years, as our mutually beneficial relationship ensures they’ll be well fed and sheltered. In domesticating dogs, humankind has gained a friend for life, and for better lives. Out of the many benefits they provide us, here are a few to thank your faithful friend for:

7. Animals Keep Us Active

This is an obvious one, as dog owners across the globe can attest. The simple act of taking your pet out for a walk is doing far more than just fertilizing the lawn. though.

The health benefits of active movement for more than 30 minutes a day have been found to aid a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD, along with lowering blood pressure and regulating heart rate.

A 2011 blog post in the New York Times’ “Well” series asked the question whether those with companion animals get more exercise than they would have without pets. The answer is a resounding affirmative, with research from Michigan State University to back it up A majority of those who take their pets for regular walks are also logging what the federal government defines as “moderate or vigorous exercise.”

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“Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity available to people,” said Mathew Reeves, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the College of Human Medicine. “What we wanted to know was if dog owners who walked their dogs were getting more physical activity or if the dog-walking was simply a substitute for other forms of activity.”

According to Rebecca A. Johnson, director of the human-animal interaction research center at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, there’s no downside to getting in as much leash time as you can.

“They help themselves by helping the dog,” Dr. Johnson told the New York Times. “If we’re committed to a dog, it enables us to commit to physical activity ourselves.”

6. Animals Improve Social Networking

Bringing your pet near other animals and humans is a good way to introduce them to positive social behavior, and it helps break down communication barriers in otherwise awkward situations.

“If I saw you walking down the street, I couldn’t comfortably start talking to you if I didn’t know you, but I could if you had a dog,” Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, told WebMD. “It’s an acceptable interaction that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”

Of course, socialization can mean a lot of different things to different dogs. The process of effectively socializing a dog can be a long and seemingly arduous one, and it can involve many different people, but the rewards are apparent in a closer bond between human and animal.

For the elderly, interaction with animals may be some of the most meaningful connections they make in a day. The comfort and happiness that comes with caring for an animal may contribute to our well-being at later stages in life much more than it contributes to theirs.

For those looking for outdoor options where animals and their owners can meet up, try searching for local training classes, dog parks, or pet friendly restaurants or cafes. Of course, make sure your pet is up to date on all pertinent shots before hitting the social scene.

5. Pets Decrease Stress

According to the National Center for Health Research, a 2002 study found that dog and cat owners had lower resting heart rates than those without pets, and were less susceptible to blood pressure irregularities when under stress.

“They also made fewer errors in their math when their pet was present in the room,” wrote Dana Casciotti, PhD and Diana Zuckerman, PhD. “All these findings indicated that having a dog or cat lowered the risk of heart disease, as well as lowering stress so that performance improved.”

WebMD reports that the companionship of an animal can lift our spirits as much as a close human friend. And

“Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression,” said Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA.

By simply petting a cat or dog, our brains begin to release oxytocin, a hormone that lowers our stress levels. An article in Science even claims that this chemical process may have played a large role in the original domestication of animals. Whether or not early Mesolithic tribes kept their own house cats is yet to be found.

Here’s what most of my actual life looks like. #catlap #sweats #writerslife (photo by @greydamon)

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4. Allergy Alleviation

Early exposure to animals plays an understated role in immune system development. Children raised around dogs and cats have been found to suffer from fewer colds and ear infections at a young age, and show decreased rates of allergies and asthma than children raised in homes without animals.

“The research provides further evidence that experiences in the first year of life are associated with health status later in life, and that early life pet exposure does not put most children at risk of being sensitized to these animals later in life,” Ganesa Wegienka, PhD, of the department of biostatistics and research epidemiology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, wrote in Clinical & Experimental Allergy in 2011.

While it’s hard to draw definite facts from the function pet allergens perform in the developing human immune system, the theory seems to follow what many researches have found to be true.

“Dirt is good,” Ganesa Wegienka, Ph.D, an epidemiologist in the department of public health sciences at Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, told Time. “Your immune system, if it’s busy with exposures early on, stays away from the allergic immune profile.”

Wegienka says the value of exposing children to animals at a young age far outweighs any argument for the opposite.

“I would not get rid of my dog if I was having a child,” Wegienka said. “There’s no evidence that you should get rid of a dog or a cat.”

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3. Connecting Children to Confidence

Apart from possibly preventing allergies later in life, exposing children to animals has also been found to decrease anxiety levels.

A 2006 study on the effects of animals on children in therapy sessions found that those with autism were less likely to act out stereotyped behaviors, like humming or hand-posturing when a dog was present in sessions. The children were also more likely to engage with the therapist around a dog.

“Such a natural tendency for the children to interact with animals allowed the occupational therapist to engage creatively with the children, and to encourage inherently reinforcing activities that facilitated their growth and development at an appropriate level of challenge,” the team of Mona J. Sams, Elizabeth V. Fortney, and Stan Willenbring wrote. “Incorporating animals in the occupational therapy session was unique in that it allowed the children to learn to interpret and respond to the less complex social and behavioral cues of animals, which may provide a bridge to learning. The results of this study suggest that occupational therapy incorporating animals in the treatment of children with autism is an area that warrants further research.”

In a population of 3 to 6-year-olds, a 1997 study found that the introduction of a dog to a routine doctor’s visit resulted in decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and behavioral distress. The same theories apply to the classroom, too.

“Animals change the classroom environment and help to integrate those who are a little less typical,” Alan Beck told WebMD. “Once the children get involved with animals, they view each other more positively and work together better.”

2. Animals Increase Mental Health

Companion animals have long been kept for their, well, companionship, but the connection goes much deeper than friendliness. Even the military acknowledges the role animals play in helping humans overcome emotional obstacles. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs promotes dog ownership for their ability to:

  • Help people connect with their emotions
  • Offer unconditional friendship
  • Understand orders, a fundamental trait shared by military veterans
  • Provide comfort and reduce stress
  • And increase social behavior

For a veteran recovering from PTSD, or any civilian experiencing frustration from mental issues, a pet dog provides a sense of mental refuge that cannot be found in therapy or medication.

“There is now a large amount of data confirming that pets are good for your psychological health and may increase, not only the quality of your life, but also your longevity,” Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C. writes in Psychology Today. “The benefits are not just short term but last well beyond the time that the pet is in the room, and the positive effects build up over time.”

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1. Animals Improve Recovery

Loyola University’s Julia Havey, MSN, RN, CCM, and lead author of the Loyola University Health System, facilitated a study that found those who have recently undergone medical treatment, if they made regular contact with a pet, required much less pain medication during recovery.

“The animal-human connection is powerful in reducing stress and in generating a sense of well-being,” Havey said. “This study further demonstrates the positive influence animals can have on human recovery.”

After a serious heart attack, dog owners are more likely to bounce back faster, according to study by the National Institutes of Health. The NIH reported that male pet owners in the clinical test had lower triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels than those without animals.

Decreased anxiety and frustration in people with dementia have also been reported when therapy dogs are introduced to their environment. While simple concentration may not seem like that big of a deal to many, for those with certain degenerative diseases, it can mean the world.

We very rarely let any of our therapy friends feed Sherman. Sometimes, when they have known Sherman for quite some time and are very familiar with him, we do. Sherman has been visiting this sweet couple for a long time now, and they ALWAYS have Cheetos waiting for him. It’s become a bit of a tradition, so today we finally allowed the wife to feed the Cheetos to Sherman herself. She was so happy. We thank them for allowing us to share this moment with Sherman’s fans. #bigdog #mastiffs #mastiffsofinstagram #mastiff #englishmastiffsofinstagram #englishmastifflife #englishmastiff #giantbreed #giantbreedlovers #dogs #dogsofinstagram #dogsofinstaworld #mansbestfriend #pnwdogs #pnw #therapydogsofinstagram #shermanthetherapydog #washingtonstate #washington #youreagoodboysherman #photooftheday #dog #photo #dogsandpals #foto #dogstagram #cheetos

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Our furry friends do so much for us, we owe it to them to look out for their safety and protection. Pet food has long been a source of worry for pet owners and health officials. Reports of salmonella contamination are frequent, and threaten not only animals eating the food but also the owners handling it. Nutritional deficiencies and toxins have been found in pet foods as well — including melamine, which has led to multiple pet deaths.

But you can help!

Follow the button below and sign our petition to the FDA. Make your voice heard now: It’s past time for the FDA to help ensure that the food we feed our pets is safe!

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