Dogs for Your Health

I am a cat person. I’ve always had cats or lived around cats. They can be peculiar, and stand-offish, and downright adorable. Dogs have always seemed cute to me, but not exceptional in the way cats can be. Two years ago, I developed a new appreciation for dogs during an Outward Bound dog-sledding and cross-country ski trip. One of my goals is to one day adopt one of the retired Outward Bound sled dogs. They are intelligent, extremely hard-working and sociable, and are hard not to fall in love with instantly.

A new study, which will come as no surprise to dog lovers, says that having a dog can be fantastic for your health, especially for people who live alone. The study showed that:

For people living alone, owning a dog can decrease their risk of death by 33% and their risk of cardiovascular related death by 36%, when compared to single individuals without a pet, according to the study. Chances of a heart attack were also found to be 11% lower.

I confess I’m jealous of the way dogs interact with their owners, like they actually acknowledge and appreciate them. There’s no questioning this with dogs. I know my cat loves me deep down, but sometimes I’m not so sure. She often looks at me like she is plotting ways to kill me, a look all cat owners are familiar with.

Dog owners have a generally higher level of physical activity which may be one reason for the results. Have you ever walked a cat? I have, it’s certainly not the same as walking a dog, though potentially more amusing.  Along with increased physical activity, the study suggested that “increased social-well being and immune system development” contributed to “protection against cardiovascular disease and death.”

One factor behind this may be because dogs bring dirt into homes and they lick you, which could impact your microbiome — the bacteria that live in your gut — and thus your health. “It may encourage owners to improve their social life, and that in itself will reduce their stress level, which we know absolutely is a primary cause for cardiovascular disease and cardiac events,” said Dr. Rachel Bond, Associate Director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the research.
For those of you grossed out when you see dog lovers welcoming those dog licks, remember that it may be saving their life.