Written by: Eileen Vera
Adopting a dog, especially into a home with children, is often viewed as a challenge by parents who think of bringing home a fur baby as bringing home new messes and expenses. In some respects, these doggy-dissenters are not wrong. When I adopted Thor, I also had to adopt a whole new wardrobe of shoes and purses as he bit through anything he could get his paws on. However, Thor also came with many scientifically proven benefits that far outweigh the cost of my new pair of Nikes.
Pawsitive Health Benefits
It turns out that the heart-warming feeling you get while petting a dog is not just figurative. A National Institute of Health study has coined a “pet effect,” in which petting a dog significantly lowered study participants’ blood pressure, suggesting a positive correlation between the physical act of touching a dog and cardiovascular health. As early as 1980 in the Journal of Public Health, it was found that heart attack patients with dogs tend to live longer than those without.
Dozens of studies have agreed that early exposure to dogs leads to a more developed immune system that is better able to fight off infections. Among them, the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that one year old children who grew up with a pet at home, especially dogs, had lowered respiratory tract infection morbidity, and were up to 30% healthier later on. The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergies found that teenagers who grew up with pets had up to 50% lower risk for certain allergens. Dr. Fujimara of the American Society for Microbiology conducted a similar study which found that dust from homes with dogs has gastrointestinal microbes that improve immune responses to RSV, a virus heavily associated with asthma.
A Furever Friend
Rebecca Johnson of the Center for Animal and Human Interaction found that animal interactions increase oxytocin, the chemical associated with bonding, healing, happiness, and trust. The practice of pet therapy, in which animals are brought to hospitals for patients, has dated back hundreds of years. There are even accounts of Florence Nightingale using dogs to provide social support to mentally ill patients. However, this is no surprise. Even the Flintstones knew of the benefit of man’s best friend. The domestication of dogs has dated back thousands of years, with some of the earliest accounts of people being buried with their dogs going back to 14,000 BC.
However, you do not have to look as far as a hospital ward or the stone age to see this kind of support. The same chemicals are released when interacting with your pet at home. In children with autism and ADHD, owning a dog has been particularly beneficial in lowering anxiety, speech promotion, and increased social interaction. While dogs may not be able to talk back, children speak to their dogs during interactions such as providing commands or simply playing. People with ADHD benefit from the routine of having a dog, and having a friend to combat the social isolation that may come with their disabilities. Dogs also help foster children with a higher sense of emotional intelligence, empathy, and the security. Children must take into account the dog’s needs, such as whether they have to go out to be walked or fed, learning to not only empathize, but take on new responsibilities.
As you can see, the miles of evidence in favor of owning a dog are quite fetching.