National Dog Day 2021: Benefits of Having a Dog


Snuggling next to my kittens while their furry chests gently rumble is a proven antidote to the stresses of the day.

As they explain this, take a moment to think about all that your dog brings to you. Perhaps it is you, dear owner, who receives the gift of good health.

Dogs and cardiovascular health

A 2019 analysis of nearly 4 million people In the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in premature deaths. from any cause whatsoever. If the person had already suffered a heart attack or stroke, having a dog was even more beneficial; they were 31% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

The study was criticized for failing to take into account other diseases, socioeconomic status and other factors that could skew the results.

However, another large study published around the same time, found that people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after experiencing a major cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.

The benefit was highest for dog owners living alone. Heart attack survivors who lived alone and owned a dog had a 33% lower risk of death than heart attack survivors. survivors who did not own a dog. Stroke survivors living alone with a dog had a 27% reduced risk of death.

The American Heart Association lists reducing diabetes on the list of health benefits of dog ownership. “People who regularly walk their dogs have a risk of diabetes that is one-third that of those who do not own a dog,” the AHA said.

Additionally, owning a dog (or other pet) can provide important social and emotional support and is a “strong indicator of behavioral changes that can lead to weight loss,” the AHA said.

Of course, these cardiovascular benefits are reserved for dogs, not cats, horses, gerbils, etc. Many suggest that it is the potential exposure to exercise that explains the benefits: The AHA points to studies which found that pet owners who walked their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise per day than non-dog walkers.

But in a previous interview with CNN, Dr. Martha Gulati, editor-in-chief of, the American College of Cardiology’s patient education platform, said the jury is still out on why.

“Is it the dog or the behaviors?” » asked Gulati. “Is it because you’re exercising or is it because there’s a difference between the type of person who would choose to have a dog and the one who wouldn’t? Are they healthier or wealthier? We don’t know these things.

Still, while “non-randomized studies cannot ‘prove’ that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust results certainly suggest at least that,” said Dr. Glenn Levine , chairman of the American Heart Editorial Group. The association’s scientific statement on pet ownership, told CNN in a previous interview.

The American Heart Association suggests various ways to get active with your dog:

  • Take your dog on a picnic. “Pack healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, mixed nuts, and plenty of water (including a bowl for the puppy). Bring a ball or other fun toys, the AHA advised.
  • Join your kids and your dog in the sprinklers. “When it’s hot, grab a swimsuit and sunscreen and run in the cooling spray with your kids and dog,” the AHA said, or go swimming at a dog-friendly beach or pool.
  • Participate in local fundraising walks or fun runs that include dogs or play “fetch or keep away” with your dog, the AHA advised. “Even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes, you and your dog will get exercise and spend time bonding.”

However, the AHA also warns that owning a pet is a caring commitment that comes with certain financial costs and responsibilities, so “the primary purpose of adopting, rescuing, or purchasing a pet » should not be to reduce cardiovascular risk.

For me and millions of others, having a pet brings a circle of love into our lives – they give affection, we return it, and we are all better for it.

Science agrees.

“I have a list of 10 health benefits that studies have shown in pet owners,” said psychologist Harold Herzog, an animal-loving professor at Western Carolina University who has long studied the connection. between man and animal.

“Higher survival rates, fewer heart attacks, less loneliness, better blood pressure, better psychological well-being, lower rates of depression and stress, fewer visits to the doctor, higher self-esteem self, better sleep and more physical activity” are just some of the examples. the recorded benefits of pet ownership, Herzog said.

But here’s a shock…

Herzog also points to studies that found that pet owners “are more likely to be lonely, depressed and have panic attacks, more likely to have asthma, obesity, high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, migraines and using more medications, et cetera. »

As often happens in science, studies have had mixed results. Some research shows benefits have a pet, other studies say there is no difference between the health of those who own and those who do not own pets. Other research suggests that there might even be negative points about owning pets (and we’re not just talking about picking up poop in the yard).

That’s right. Although we are convinced of the benefits our fur babies bring to our lives, science has not yet definitively proven that pets are good for our health.

“We find that it’s a little more complicated than we initially thought,” she added. “I always say it’s not a big question: ‘Are our pets good for us?’

“It’s about who pets are good for, under what circumstances, and is it the right match between person and animal? »

Anxiety and mood

Pet owners certainly believe that their pets provide them with emotional support, especially in times of stress, Mueller said, and fortunately, science seems to back that up.

“Some research shows that having a pet with you during an anxious event might help reduce the stress of that event,” she said.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that people’s good moods increase and bad moods decrease in the presence of pets,” Herzog said. “So we know that there are immediate short-term benefits, physiological and psychological, to interacting with pets. I have no doubt about it. »

But the same cannot yet be said for depression.

Herzog shot 30 studies on topic: Eighteen showed no difference in rates of depression between people with pets and those without; five concluded that having a pet alleviated depressive symptoms; five pets worsened depression; and the rest was inconclusive.

A study elderly people studied by Mueller found that pet owners were about twice as likely to have suffered from depression in the past – but reported no depression in the past week. Did they get a pet and then become depressed or did the pet help end the depression? It’s not clear.

Therapy and emotional support

One of the reasons science is so uncertain When it comes to pets and our health, it’s almost impossible to conduct “gold standard” studies: a randomized controlled trial in which the researcher controls all factors and then randomly assigns a pet to the test group.

“It’s very difficult to do randomized studies because most people want to choose whether or not to get a pet and choose who their pets are,” Mueller said.

Backed by a $9 million partnership between the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.K.’s Waltham Petcare Science Institute, some researchers have begun to design better studies to determine if it is the animals that are having the impact.

A 2015 study found children with ADHD who read to real animals showed more improvements in sharing, cooperation, volunteering, and behavioral problems than children with ADHD who read to a stuffed animal. Another study found that autistic children were calmer and interacted more in the presence of guinea pigs than toys.

A four-month stay randomized study (PDF) performed at Vanderbilt University in Nashville gave children access to therapy dogs just before undergoing cancer treatment. All the children enjoyed it, but there was no drop in anxiety levels between the children in the test group and those in the control group.

Parents of children who had therapy dogs, however, showed a significant decrease in parental anxiety about pain and their child’s ability to cope with it.

Research in this area is booming,

Another research method used, Mueller said, are longitudinal studies, in which large numbers of people are followed over long periods of time. The hope is that these studies, along with more scientifically designed experiments, will uncover the more precise reasons why a particular animal might – or might not – be suitable for a person and their needs.

One day, Mueller says, it may be possible to “prescribe” a dog to an active young child, a troubled teenager or a cardiovascular patient and know – as far as science can tell – what the outcome will be. likely for their health.

Maybe we’ll finally have data to back up the “cat versus dog” debate, or simply how and why a bird, fish, lizard, or gerbil might ease our stress and offer us companionship.

Until then, fellow animal lovers, I intend to return to what I intuitively know: my pets are some of the most loving “people” in my life, and that, if nothing else, makes them good for me.


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