It may surprise you to learn that there has been a number of studies done over the years exploring the human-animal bond with a growing body of research revealing actual health benefits that result from quality time with your dog. In fact the more I read, the more these studies pointed to the need for even more research into this field.
While some question the validity of the studies completed to date, there does seem to be convincing evidence that our dogs do make us healthier. For starters, having a dog usually means that we are more active than if we were without our four-legged family. In one study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) they looked at more that 2,000 adults and concluded that dog parents who walked their dogs on a regular basis were more physically active and less likely to become obese than those without a dog. A slightly larger study which looked at senior adults between the ages of 71-82 for a period of 3 years saw that those who walked their dogs regularly, walked faster and longer than those who didn't walk regularly and had greater mobility inside the home.
There has even been evidence showing that dogs can help adults suffering from dementia. By introducing trained therapy dogs into the lives of people with dementia it has been shown that they can stimulate social interaction, ease agitation, improve eating and increase physical activity.
Therapy dogs have also had positive results with cancer patients helping to alleviate depression, while offering welcome companionship and a positive distraction from treatment schedules and worries.
Perhaps the most convincing scientific results are found within the area of cardiovascular health. Several studies have found that people with dogs have lower heart rates and blood pressure than those without. Dogs as stress relievers has often been proven. Research has shown that our levels of Oxytocin (OT), a neuropeptide recognized for its role in bonding, socialization and stress relief, increase when we interact with our dogs.
I can honestly say that the only time I truly relax and let go is with my dogs, especially when I am petting and cuddling with them. It is the one time I can let everything else go and just be with them in the moment. It's so therapeutic, I don't know how I would get on without them to keep me grounded and to remind me that there are more important things in life than our daily stressors.
My life is very hectic and I think part of the reason why I love senior dogs so much is that by their very nature they have a calming effect on me. Sometimes I feel more relaxed by just watching how Milo takes his time as he maneuvers through life, taking in every smell and every moment at his own pace, never rushing and never taking anything for granted. In fact I would very much like to see research that takes into consideration the age of the dog to see if seniors have a more therapeutic effect on cardiovascular health than younger, high energy dogs.
Overall, I find research in this area, while considered in its infancy, a very important field of study because the more we understand about our dogs and the positive impact they truly have on our lives emotionally and physically, the more society as a whole will come to value and accept dogs in all areas of our lives. With their ability to focus their attention on us, to read our signals often before we know them ourselves and their devotion to us which often sees them putting our needs ahead of their own, it's no wonder they make us healthier.
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.