Are Dog Owners Healthier People?

3. Dogs can improve mental health and social relationships.

Researchers at Central Michigan University found that when a dog is present in a collaborative group setting, group members rank their teammates higher in terms of trust, team cohesion and intimacy.

Being close with a dog helps improve human relationships. Studies find that owning and walking a dog increases social interaction. Dogs help ease people out of social isolation or shyness, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta.

Children who experience caring for a dog have higher levels of empathy and self-esteem than children without pet dogs, shows child psychologist Robert Bierer. And children who practice reading to a dog see a 12 percent improvement in reading skills over a 10-week period when compared to children who didn't read to a dog (who showed no improvement).

Pet owners with AIDS are far less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. "The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets," says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD. Petting and playing with a dog has shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine.

4. Dogs can help manage chronic disease.

Research suggests that dogs have a beneficial effect on improving social behavior and minimizing agitation and anxiety in people with dementia. Hospital visits from a "therapy dog" animate patients, helping them become more active and responsive while offering them a welcome distraction from pain or loneliness.

Loyola university researchers found that people who regularly petted dogs needed 50 percent less pain medication when recovering from surgery. Owning a dog or undergoing "pet therapy" is being studied for people suffering from fibromyalgia.

A study from the National Institutes of Health found dog owners had a better one-year survival rate following a heart attack than non-dog owners. Male pet owners have less signs of heart disease—indicated by lower triglyceride and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels—than non-owners. Studies show that the mere act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure.

In one study, stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than people without pets. And elderly dog owners require 20 percent less medical care than non-dog owners, according to a study at UCLA.

Walking a dog or just caring for a pet can provide exercise and companionship. Midland Life Insurance Company asks clients over age 75 if they have a pet as part of their medical screening. Having a pet reduces the amount of health insurance they may have to pay.

According to these statistics, owning a pet may be healthier than the kale and quinoa salad you just had.

This article is not meant to diagnose, treat or prevent disease and does not replace the advice of a trained medical professional.

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