January 24, 2018
The Science Behind Puppy Love
Dogs are considered “man’s best friend” for a very good reason
Here’s something to howl about: Owning a dog may save your life.
Research has found that having a four-legged companion like a dog can lower your risk of heart disease.
According to a Swedish study, individuals living alone who own a dog noticed a significantly reduced risk of suffering from cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent, while dog owners in a multi-person household saw a decreased risk of cardiovascular death by 15 percent.
In that same study, dog ownership in a single-person household was linked to a 33 percent reduction of mortality from any cause compared to non-owners. The risk factor was 11 percent lower in multi-person households.
Various factors may contribute to these results.
For one, dogs provide strong social support and promote feelings of greater well-being in their owners. The calming effects brought on by those big puppy eyes and wagging tail have been shown to decrease blood pressure, therefore lowering the risk of heart disease in individuals without high blood pressure.
Dogs also provide companionship.
As participants who lived alone benefited the most from owning a dog, study author Tove Fall pointed to the “pack” function of a dog, noting that “a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households.”
“It is hard to overstate the impact that a dog can have on your emotional and psychological health. They improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, bringing comfort, companionship and relaxation in ways that are hard to describe,” explains Dr. Wendy Major, a clinical psychologist at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children and owner of Winnie, Kapiolani’s Chief Canine Officer and hospital therapy dog.
Another important factor in preventing heart disease is exercise, and dog owners generally get more physical activity than their canine-less counterparts.
In particular, owners of hunting breeds (think Labradors, retrievers, setters and beagles) experienced an additional reduction in their risk of heart disease. This is likely due to the physical exercise these dogs require compared to their less-active counterparts.
“For many people, having a dog to love, walk, pet, and care for is one of the most beneficial, meaningful aspects of their lives,” Major says. “Dogs are a gift to us in so many ways, and the relationship we create with them is often a cure for the soul.”
This isn’t the first study to examine the connection between dog ownership and heart health. Previous findings suggest kids who grow up with dogs have a reduced risk of health issues like asthma, allergies and eczema. The thought is that people who live with dogs gain extra exposure to microbes, which helps to boost their immune systems.
The American Heart Association also has done its own review of past research and concluded “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with decreased cardiovascular risk.”
More studies need to be done to understand the connection between man and dog and how this bond may benefit our health.
In the meantime, if you have a dog – or any pet, for that matter – show him some extra love. It’ll be good for both your hearts.