They say that a dog is a man’s best mate. And while there may not be much scientific evidence to back up this claim, it’s hard to argue with the fact that dogs have helped their owners through some rough times at least in theory. There’s something about these furry creatures that makes people want to take care of them and give them love when no one else will.
Even if you don’t own a pet, you’ve probably seen someone walking down the street holding on to a leash and admiring their favorite mutt or stray as though it were a small child. The question is why do we feel so attached to these animals? What qualities make them such an important part of many people’s lives?
There are several reasons why owning a dog seems like such a great idea. One reason is that dogs are very social animals. They’re not just packed animals; dogs tend to form strong bonds with each other. These friendships often last beyond death, even when the owner isn’t present. Another reason dogs are popular pets is that they’re relatively inexpensive compared to most other pets.
Dogs also require less maintenance than cats, birds, and rabbits, which means they’re easier to keep clean and more economical to feed. Pets provide companionship, too. Many people find comfort in the company of another living being. Finally, dogs are extremely loyal. In return, humans offer food and shelter.
But perhaps the most compelling argument for keeping a canine friend is psychological. Studies show that having a pet reduces stress levels. This effect has been attributed to two factors.
First, pets relieve boredom by providing activity. Second, since pets are usually dependent upon their human counterparts for survival, they become familiar with the routines and habits of their owners. As a result, pets help ease anxiety and depression in their owners.
While these studies have shown that owning a pet has positive effects on mental health, there are still concerns regarding the overall health risks associated with canine ownership. Read on to learn more about those issues.
The Health Benefits of Dogs
It was only a few years ago that scientists began studying the benefits of keeping a pet. It wasn’t until 1998 that a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that owning a cat or dog could reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. Since then, numerous studies have supported this conclusion.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Animal Physiology found that dog owners had lower blood pressure than non-owners did. Other research indicates that people who have pets live longer than those who don’t. For example, a study published in 2007 indicated that women who owned pets lived 7 years longer than those who didn’t.
So, does this mean that every dog is good for your health? Not necessarily. Some breeds have specific attributes that may increase or decrease your chances of getting certain diseases. For instance, a study published in 2008 showed that owning a Collie increased the likelihood of developing melanoma.
On the other hand, a 2009 study revealed that owning a Labrador decreased the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Because different types of pets have varying health characteristics, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of potential pets before adopting any animal.
One thing is clear, however: Owning a dog doesn’t automatically improve your quality of life. Dogs aren’t perfect health machines. Just like humans, dogs need medical attention occasionally. If you’re going to buy a pup, know its breed well and be aware of common ailments that affect dogs in general. According to WebMD, some of the most common disorders among dogs include hip dysplasia, allergies, ear infections, cancer, and diabetes.
Another significant health concern is obesity. Obesity rates among American adults rose steadily between 1999 and 2005. When it comes to dogs, obesity is particularly prevalent among large breeds. For example, according to the ASPCA, roughly 40 percent of Great Danes are overweight.
As you read on, you’ll discover more details about how dogs impact our health.
A 2007 study published in the journal “Science” pointed out that the presence of companion animals in homes has a protective effect against asthma attacks. However, the same study noted that children under 5 years old appeared to suffer greater harm from exposure to pets. Children younger than 2 shouldn’t have pets at all.
Health Risks From Dog Ownership
So far, the data seems pretty conclusive. Having a pet lowers your risk of premature death, improves your mood, and increases your longevity. That said, it’s worth noting that dogs themselves don’t exactly enjoy optimal health. Like humans, dogs develop illnesses and diseases from time to time.
The key difference is that we pay attention to our dogs’ symptoms and respond accordingly. We visit the vet, pick up prescriptions and seek treatment when necessary. Unfortunately, many people ignore their pets’ health problems.
When dogs don’t receive proper care, their conditions worsen over time. For example, a condition called parvovirus causes intestinal blockages and severe diarrhea. Left untreated, parvovirus can lead to dehydration and even death. Most cases of parvo occur in puppies.
Fortunately, this viral infection is easily preventable through vaccination. Failure to vaccinate your puppy or to adhere to vaccine schedules can cause serious illness and even death. Parvo is just one example of a number of zoonotic diseases that humans acquire from their dogs.
Zoonotic diseases are contagious diseases transmitted from vertebrate hosts (such as animals) to humans. Common examples of zoonotic diseases include rabies, Lyme disease, hepatitis, and distemper.
Canines aren’t infallible either. Canine infectious diseases (CIDs), including ringworm, hookworms, ticks, and tapeworms, pose threats to both human and dog health. CIDs spread quickly through close contact and poor sanitation. Dogs infected with tapeworms may experience diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and weakness. Ringworm is caused by fungi known as dermatophytes. Symptoms include rashes, hair loss, and intense itching. Hookworms are roundworm parasites that infect the intestines. Infected dogs typically die within days of becoming ill.
Ticks transmit Lyme disease, which affects the skin, nervous system, and joints. To avoid contracting CID, wash your hands after handling your dog and use insect repellant containing DEET or picaridin. Consult your veterinarian for advice on preventing tick infestation.
Although dogs are generally healthier than humans, there are some exceptions. For example, older dogs may encounter osteoarthritis due to improper joint alignment during growth. Older dogs are also susceptible to bladder stones. Lastly, urinary incontinence is a problem commonly suffered by female dogs. Female pups also face the threat of mammary tumors. Like humans, aging dogs are prone to bone fractures and muscle degeneration.
Despite the occasional health risks faced by pet owners, dogs remain popular choices for family members and friends. Keep reading to find out where to go next.
In 2004, the New York City Department of Health released guidelines for disposing of euthanized pets. The department suggested using incinerators rather than burying or composting dead pets. Incinerating remains of euthanized pets greatly reduced the number of pathogens left intact. Also, buried remains of euthanized pets were likely to seep into groundwater supplies. Composting pet remains was deemed impractical because bacteria and viruses killed by heat would escape into the surrounding soil.
The Health Benefits of Dogs
Most experts agree that dogs are better pets for people than cats. Cats don’t bark, whine or meow to communicate. Instead, felines rely on facial expressions and body language. Dogs, on the other hand, vocalize frequently. Their barks and whimpers convey emotions ranging from excitement to pain. A person who owns a dog enjoys closer communication with his pet than he does with a cat. The downside to this closeness is that dogs drool.
They lick themselves constantly, and saliva contains lots of germs. Germs thrive in warm, moist environments. Saliva provides ample opportunity for bacteria to grow. Your dog’s saliva also carries harmful chemicals, including ammonia, acetone, benzene, and toluene.
Dogs are also better watchdogs. Unlike cats, dogs possess keen eyesight and hearing. They can sense movement as subtle as a mouse scurrying across the floor. More importantly, dogs alert their masters to trouble. They won’t sit idly by while burglars break into the house.
Finally, dogs provide unconditional love. Although most people wouldn’t consider their dog a member of the family, dogs certainly deserve top billing. No matter how busy your day gets, you should always stop playing with your pooch. You might even bring Fido along on vacation. After all, nothing says “I love my dog!” quite like taking him camping.
If you’re planning to adopt a new dog, check the local licensing board or government agency responsible for regulating pets. Laws vary from state to state. Some states allow only purebred dogs, whereas others accept mixed-breed specimens. Make sure you choose an adult dog that meets your expectations for size, temperament, and appearance.