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

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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.”

Have you ever seen a Hippo mid-sneeze?

A photo posted by Hippo (@hippo_thebully) on

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.”

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

A photo posted by Harlow, Sage, Indiana & Reese (@harlowandsage) on

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

A video posted by Sherman The Therapy Dog (@shermanthetherapydog) on

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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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and world traveler with a background in journalism, graphic design, and French pastry. He likes to learn new things whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, folk music and coffee.
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