Tag Archives: dog ownership

Benefits of having a dog in your life

Daisy portrait

Some of the great benefits of owning a dog are:

  1. Reduction of stress
  2. They make you exercise
  3. They provide unconditional love
  4. And on top of this, they boost self esteem (even after a bad day at work, they love you!)
  5. When life is hard, they teach you the value of play
  6. Because they love you, they provide safety & security
  7. They provide a sense of belonging – you’re packmates!
  8. On top of everything, the act of petting a dog is proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate

Enjoy your weekend.  Have you hugged your dog today?

Dogs reduce your risk of heart disease

The American Heart Association has released a scientific statement citing the link between pet ownership and reduced risk of heart disease.

The statement is published online in the association’s journal Circulation.

“Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and chair of the committee that wrote the statement after reviewing previous studies of the influence of pets.

Research cited to support that statement includes:

  • Pet ownership is probably associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors and increased survival among patients.  “It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk,” Levine said. (Disclaimer:  These studies aren’t definitive and do not necessarily prove that owning a pet directly causes a reduction in heart disease risk.)
  • Dog ownership in particular may help reduce cardiovascular risk. People with dogs may engage in more physical activity because they walk them. In a study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners engaged in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.
  • Owning pets may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and a lower incidence of obesity.
  • Pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress.

“In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk,” Levine said. “What’s less clear is whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease. Further research, including better quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question.”

Even with a likely link, people shouldn’t adopt, rescue or buy a pet solely to reduce cardiovascular risk, Levine said.

Statement co-writers are: Karen Allen, Ph.D.; Lynne T. Braun, Ph.D., C.N.P.; Hayley E. Christian, Ph.D.; Erika Friedmann, Ph.D.; Kathryn A. Taubert, Ph.D.; Sue Ann Thomas, R.N., Ph.D.; Deborah L. Wells, Ph.D.; and Richard A. Lange, M.D., M.B.A.

Source:  American Heart Association media statement

Of dogs, house dust and asthma…

This is a tale of how owning a dog can help protect your child from asthma.  Strange, but true.

Researcher Dr Kei Fujimura used mice to test the impact of house dust from homes where a dog lived and from those that didn’t.  She found (and her study was presented at a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology) that the dust from households with dogs seemed to have a beneficial effect.

Mice who were fed dust from these households developed an immune response to RSV(respiratory syncytial virus).  Infants who contract this virus have a marked increase in their risk of developing asthma.  RSV affects 90% of children worldwide.  That makes this study significant.

Dr Fujimura says these results support the hypothesis that exposure to animals in early childhood stimulates the immune system to resist the development of asthma and other allergies.

Another reason to introduce your children to the wonders of dog ownership at an early age!

Source:  Discovery News

Hug me, I need the oxytocin

Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone that is released during the act of touching and hugging.   For these reasons, the hormone is often referred to as ‘the cuddle hormone’ or ‘the love hormone.’  (The hormone is also released during childbirth, by the way).

As a dog owner, your relationship with your dog is likely to involve you and your dog triggering the release of oxytocin in one another.  Temple Grandin, animal behaviourist and autism researcher, has found that ‘A dog’s oxytocin levels rise when his owners pet him and petting his dog raises the owner’s oxytocin too.’    In other words, this hormone plays a role in the human-animal bond.

In 2003, J.S.J. Odendaal and R.A. Meintjes of the  Life Sciences Institute at Pretoria published research into the blood levels of endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin, B-phenylethylamine and dopamine (all associated with pleasure response or relaxation) and cortisol (a known stress hormone) in people and dogs both before and after they interacted with each other.  The researchers compared levels of the neurochemicals under three scenarios:   1) after people petted their own dogs 2)  after they petted unfamiliar dogs and 3) after they sat quietly and read a book.

In both humans and dogs, the levels of the pleasure-response chemicals  rose after 5 to 24 minutes.  At the same time, cortisol levels in humans fell as they spent time with their pets.   The increase in oxytocin was highest in the group where people interacted with their own dogs, as opposed to dogs that were unfamiliar to them.

In 2008, Miho Nagasawa’s research team in Japan showed that only eye contact was necessary between dogs and their humans to increase oxytocin levels.  After 30 minutes of contact with their dog, owners showed an increase in oxytocin levels.

Dr Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg from Uppsala University, studies oxytocin and its effects.  Her 2010 study showed that women and their dogs experienced increases in their oxytocin levels after only 10 minutes of contact.  When compared to a survey of the women, their oxytocin response was in direct correlation with the quality of the bond they felt for their pet.

For those of us who have experienced this bond during our lives, it is probably not surprising that there is a scientific reason for our feelings and that it is hormone-related.  But it’s nice to have science on our side.

For those of you raising puppies, these studies show that there  is a good scientific reason to ensure your  puppy is socialised.  It is not surprising  that dogs involved in hoarding cases or puppy mills are withdrawn and in many cases frightened of humans.  They aren’t accustomed to the positive effects of oxytocin release and in many cases have suffered other traumas.

Hey Daisy, give me a hug…I need the oxytocin.

Have you hugged your dog today?

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Furry friends with benefits

Research conducted at Case Western Reserve University has revealed the positive impact that pet ownership has on women who are managing HIV/AIDS.

Dr Allison Webel set out to understand how women manage their HIV/AIDS and stay on track to take their medications, follow doctors’ orders and live healthy lifestyles.  She found that “Pets—primarily dogs—gave these women a sense of support and pleasure.”

The human and animal bond in healing and therapy is being recognized, Webel said, as more animals are visiting nursing homes to connect to people with dementia or hospitals to visit children with long hospital stays.

Dr Webel talks about her research in this YouTube video:

A city good for dogs is great for humans

I went to a talk earlier this week by Stephen Jenkinson, who is visiting New Zealand from the UK.  Stephen works as a consultant in the UK, with clients including kennel clubs and other agencies.  His area of interest is how public authorities can help reduce conflict over dogs and dog ownership by providing adequate facilities and opportunities for dog owners to do the right thing.

This type of urban planning helps to make dog ownership easy.  For example, you don’t have to drive across town to find an off-leash dog park because there will be dog exercise areas that are within walking distance. (This helps to reduce traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and conflict when dog owners take their dog off-lead in a ‘normal’ park or reserve.)    Areas in larger recreational parks may be designated for use by dogs and their owners, thus keeping other tracks free for other users who do not want to play or engage with dogs.  And there is a growing body of knowledge around design of dog-friendly accommodation such as apartments and condominiums.

Stephen feels that there is opportunity for the rebuild of Christchurch to do better for dogs, their owners, and all non-dog people.   Sadly, no one from the Christchurch City Council, CERA, or Gerry Brownlee’s office participated in Mr Jenkinson’s public talk on Monday evening.  That signals a lack of senior level buy-in and support for the concepts.

I’ll be doing more research on this topic over the coming weeks and months, but if you’d like to get a flavour for what Mr Jenkinson talked about, you can listen to him speak with Kim Hill on Radio NZ National.

Consultant Stephen Jenkinson with his Border Collie

Money saving tips for dog owners

Salaries and wages aren’t growing as fast as the cost of living and so it is always wise to look for ways to cut your costs.  This includes the costs of dog ownership.

Here are my tips for reducing the overall cost of caring for your dog:

  • Buy quality toys and rotate them – instead of buying toys that are the cheapest you can find (there have been reports of cheap imported toys containing lead paint, for example) – buy quality.  Every few weeks, rotate the toys available to your dog.  A deep toy basket will help you with this chore!
  • Learn to bathe and groom your dog at home, and then cut down on the trips to the professional groomer.  You’ll still want that professional look – but it will lengthen the time between visits and save you money.
  • Buy locally.  Look for locally made shampoos, toys,  food and treats.  These are likely to be less expensive than imported brands (the cost of petrol is a good indication of rising transport costs associated with imports).  The added benefit is you are returning business to people in your area.
  • Buy secondhand goods.  Sites like Trade Me are full of useful products that are up for sale.  You can buy dog kennels, crates, blankets, coats, shampoos, and grooming tools.  In some cases, small businesses (like mine) place products on the site at competitive prices to retail.
  • Buy with your friends.  If you have a small dog, you probably don’t want to buy the largest size bag of food but typically it is the largest bag with the best price.  Why not buy a re-useable storage container and split the cost of a large bag with another dog owning friend?  You both win!
  • Watch out for your dog’s dental health.   Feed bones and chews regularly and introduce teeth brushing for added benefits.  Preventing dental problems will save you money and your dog pain in the longer term.
  • Look out for alternative places to buy your pet supplies.  I have found MyVet online in New Zealand for things like flea and worming treatment.  Much better prices than at the vet or in the pet store.
  • Keep up with your regular veterinary visits.  Regular veterinary checks are essential to picking up on health problems early.  Preventive healthcare is an investment, not a cost.

Please feel free to post your cost-saving ideas by submitting comments to this blog.