Health & Wellness

Are there Health Benefits from Owning a Dog?

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I hadn’t expected that Carlos would become such a big part of my life.

Sharing my bed every night. Planning my days so we can take three long walks together. Being the one I turn to for a snuggle when I’m feeling stressed or blue.

Carlos, as many readers will surmise, is neither my husband nor my boyfriend, but my dog. To be exact, he is an 80-pound, 8-year-old golden retriever with chocolate-brown eyes, strawberry-blonde eyelashes and the sweetest, most loving disposition of any living being I’ve ever encountered.

When I met Carlos he was a two-month-old puppy, newly adopted by a man I was dating. Six months later, when my beau needed to spend a few weeks across the country to deal with a family emergency, caring for Carlos fell to me. And I fell for him hard.

Today, Carlos is in my custody pretty much full time, and I can say that owning a dog for the first time has changed my life for the better. Carlos keeps me active; I may not make it to the gym every day, but I will sneak in exercise by spending time walking him.

Like others of his breed, Carlos is extraordinarily friendly, so we seldom go more than half a block without a meet-and-greet. I have gotten to know dozens of dog-owning neighbors; some have become friends. Even if I know my neighbors only as Rascal’s dad or Woodie’s mom, there is genuine warmth and pleasure in our daily five-minute interactions.

Research suggests Carlos may be enhancing both my physical and psychological health.

Some studies demonstrated that dog owners who regularly walked their dog are more active and less likely to be obese than those that don’t walk their dogs and a study of dog owners aged 71 to 82 found that older dog walkers had greater mobility in their homes than others in the study.(1)

A dog also adds structure to your life. As a writer who works at home, the need to walk, feed and even clean up after Carlos in the backyard adds welcome punctuation to my days. And, in an age when emails and texts have replaced in-person meetings and phone calls, there are many days when I’d go hours without speaking if I didn’t talk to Carlos.  For empty nesters and retirees, canine companionship may help provide companionship.

As the American Heart Association points out, no one should adopt a dog solely for health reasons, but rather because you want to provide a loving home and derive enjoyment from a pet.(2) And, if you are considering bringing a dog into your life, you might want to pass on the puppy in favor of an adult dog, suggests Jason C. Rattan, DVM, Carlos’s veterinarian. “Some of my older clients talk about the exhaustion of taking care of puppies,” the Los Angeles vet says. “Dogs who are three or four or five years old are mature but still energetic.”

References

1.  NIH News in Health, "Can Pets Help Keep You Healthy?"

2. Owning a Pet May Protect You from Heart Disease, American Heart Association 

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