Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

Heart-Wrenching Study Shows The Long-Term Effect Yelling Can Have on Your Dog

Monday, November 11th, 2019
From SCIENCEALERT.COM by MICHELLE STARR  7 NOV 2019

Your dog may be the apple of your eye, but let’s be honest: she is an animal, with her own instincts and idiosyncrasies, and there are going to be times when she makes you want to tear your hair out.

According to a new study uploaded to pre-print server bioRxiv, aversive training such as punishment and negative reinforcement can have long-term negative effects on your dog’s mental state.

“Our results show that companion dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare as compared to companion dogs trained using reward-based methods, at both the short- and the long-term level,” the researchers write in their paper.

“Specifically, dogs attending schools using aversive-based methods displayed more stress-related behaviours and body postures during training, higher elevations in cortisol levels after training, and were more ‘pessimistic’ in a cognitive bias task.”

This sort of research has been conducted before, and found that aversive training has negative effects, but it’s primarily been on police and laboratory dogs. In addition, the aversive training tends to be shock collar training, which is only one of several tools used.

So, led by biologist Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal, the international team of researchers conducted their new study on companion dogs.

Each dog was filmed during the first 15 minutes of three training sessions, and saliva samples were taken to assess stress levels from training – three from each dog relaxing at home to establish baseline levels of stress hormone cortisol, and three from each dog after training.

The researchers also analysed the dogs’ behaviour during training to look for stress behaviours, such as yawning, lip-licking, paw-raising and yelping.

Unsurprisingly, the dogs in the aversive training classes showed elevated stress behaviours, particularly yawning and lip-licking. Their saliva also had significantly increased levels of cortisol compared to when they were relaxing at home.

By contrast, the positive reinforcement dogs were pretty chill – far fewer stress behaviours, and much more normal cortisol levels.

The next step was to assess the longer term effects of this stress. A month after the dogs were assessed at training, 79 of them were then trained to associate a bowl on one side of a room with a sausage snack. If the bowl was on that side, it always held a delicious treat; if located on the other side, the bowl never had the treat. (All bowls were rubbed with sausage to ensure the smell didn’t give the game away.)

Sure enough, the more aversive training a dog had received, the more slowly it approached the bowl. Interestingly, dogs from the reward-based training group actually learnt the bowl location task faster than the aversive-training dogs.

This suggests that reward-based training may actually be more effective, although the researchers suggest this may be because the dogs already understand treat-based training methods. It’s possible that the other group would learn more quickly were an aversive method applied – more research needs to be done to determine this.

Overall, though, the results seem to imply that aversive training doesn’t necessarily have an edge over reward training, and that reward training is much better for your dog’s happiness.

“Critically,” the researchers said, “our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk.”

The full paper is available on bioRxiv ahead of peer review.

The 5 Things You Should Never Do With a Pet in the Car

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
  • A recent study confirms what almost all of already know — pets riding in cars should be restrained
  • The study showed that free-roaming pets in vehicles increase driver distractions, unsafe driving behavior, and stress for both drivers and pets
  • It’s important to know the five things you should never do with a pet in the car
  • For everyone’s safety, including your pet’s, it’s important to secure him or her with a preferably crash tested harness, travel crate, or travel carrier
  • Other important tips for safe travel include ensuring your dog or cat is wearing an up-to-date ID tag, and bringing along a pet emergency first aid kit

Recent research conducted by Volvo and The Harris Poll confirms what most of us already know — allowing your pet to ride and roam around in your car unrestrained is not a good or safe plan.1 The study showed that “free-range” pets in vehicles leads to an increase in unsafe driving maneuvers, driver distraction, and stress on both the animal and the driver.

A previous report by the same researchers suggested that 32% of pet parents have left a dog at home because they felt their car wasn’t safe enough, and 77% of Americans believe people don’t take vehicular dog safety seriously enough.2 Clearly, pet owners know better than they do, when it comes to traveling with furry companions.

Why Allowing Your Pet to Ride Unrestrained in Your Car is So Risky

The just-released study followed 15 drivers with dogs in their vehicles for more than 30 road hours. The researchers set out to compare how driving with an unrestrained pet vs. a pet in a seat belt, harness or carrier affected driver behavior. A few highlights:

  • Unsafe driving behaviors — including pets climbing on drivers’ laps or hanging their head out the window — more than doubled when pets were allowed to roam freely, with 649 instances vs. 274 with restrained pets
  • Driver distraction caused by dogs jumping from seat to seat or otherwise pulling drivers’ eyes off the road also more than doubled at 3 hours and 39 minutes with unrestrained pets vs. 1 hour and 39 minutes with restrained pets
  • Heart rates increased for both drivers and unrestrained pets, with dogs averaging 7 beats per minute faster and drivers, 28 to 34 beats per minute faster

Beyond these significant issues, free-roaming pets in cars can receive devastating injuries in the event of an accident or can run away from the chaotic, frightening scene of the accident, never to be seen again.

5 Never-Dos When Traveling With Pets

Veterinarian Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, an expert in emergency and critical care of animals, offers the following tips for driving with pets:3

  • Never drive with your pet in the front seat — In the event of a collision, your dog or cat can be thrown into the windshield, even if restrained. Deployment of the passenger side airbag can also be dangerous to a small pet.
  • Never drive with your pet on your lap — It is not only a serious distraction to driving, but your pet can get caught under the steering wheel and cause an accident or be thrown forward in a collision.
  • Never drive with your pet unrestrained — Not only can your pet be a distraction, but an abrupt stop can cause him to fall and be injured. In the event of an accident, your frightened dog or cat may jump from your vehicle and run into moving traffic, be hit by other vehicles, or become lost.
  • Never allow your pet to lean out your car window — Debris can fly into your pet’s eyes and cause abrasions or punctures that could result in blindness.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in a vehicle — Depending on the breed, level of anxiety, and the time of year, some people may be tempted to leave their pet in the car while running a short errand. Even during cooler months, never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle, no matter how short a period of time, to avoid extreme temperatures and hyperthermia/ heat stroke.

Pet Restraints: Harnesses, Travel Carriers, and Travel Crates

Putting your pet into a crate, carrier or secure harness is for their safety as well as yours. As discussed above, an unrestrained dog or cat can be a distraction while you’re driving, and more than a few have crawled under the driver’s feet, causing an accident, and an unrestrained animal can become a projectile, which is life-threatening for both your pet and other passengers.

You’ll want to choose a crate or carrier that fits your dog or cat snugly, with enough room to be comfortable but not excess room (which poses a risk in the event of an accident). The crate or carrier should then be secured into the back seat or cargo area of the vehicle — not the front passenger seat.

While you can fasten almost any crate or carrier in your vehicle using elastic or rubber bungee cords, this method may not be secure enough in an accident, putting your pet at risk of injury. In addition, many pet restraint manufacturers claim their products are crash-tested and safe for use in a vehicle, but there are no established test protocols or standards required to make such claims.

Fortunately, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) and Subaru have collaborated to perform crash tests on a wide range of harnesses, carriers and crates on the market. CPS actually provides a list of crash test certified pet restraint systems (up to date as of November 2018). The links below take you the test pages, including videos, for each product:4

Safety Harnesses Travel Carriers Travel Crates
Sleepypod Clickit Sport (Sm, Med, Lg, XL) Gen7Commuter Carrier Gunner Kennel G1 Small with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
Sleepypod Clickit Terrain (Sm, Med, Lg, XL) Gunner Kennel G1 Small with Strength Rated Anchor Straps Gunner Kennel G1 Medium with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
ZuGoPet The Rocketeer Pack Sleepypod Carriers Gunner Kennel G1 Intermediate with Strength Rated Anchor Straps

The CPS and Subaru also crash-tested pet travel seats. These are portable booster seats for small dogs that are placed on the passenger seat or console to elevate small dogs so they can see out the windows. None of the four tested seats safely restrained the (stuffed) dogs in the crash tests,5 so while they may be fun for dogs, they shouldn’t be considered effective safety restraints.

10 More Important Tips for Safe Road Trips With Your Pet

  1. Make sure your dog or cat is wearing a collar with a current ID tag. If your pet is microchipped, make sure the information is current in the microchip company’s database.
  2. Put together a travel kit for your pet. Include appropriate paperwork, food, fresh bottled water, bowls, treats, a harness and leash, and any supplements or medications your pet is taking.
  3. A first aid kit for emergencies is also a good idea. You can include a comb or brush, some toys, and, bedding. It’s also an excellent idea to include some recent pictures of your pet from various angles that would show any unique markings or any unique characteristics about her in the event (heaven forbid) she gets separated from you while traveling.
  4. If you plan to feed fresh or raw homemade food during the trip, obviously you need to pack an ice chest or some way to keep the food frozen. If you opt to switch to canned food for your journey, it’s important you make the dietary transition a week or so before you plan to leave, so you don’t encounter any unexpected bouts of diarrhea during your trip.
  5. Have clean up supplies on hand. Sometimes, there are potty accidents or vomit episodes that need cleaning up.
  6. Most cats won’t use a litterbox in a moving vehicle. If you make stops along the way, you can try to entice him to use the box at rest areas. It’s important to have a litterbox available when you make stops, but it also means that you’ll need a litter scoop and some plastic bags for used litter if your cat does decide to take advantage of the litterbox.
  7. Never open your cat’s carrier while there are any car doors or windows, even a sunroof, open. It’s a precaution you should follow religiously at all times when traveling with your cat.
  8. If you’re traveling with a dog, make sure his leash is attached to his harness or collar before allowing him off his travel harness or out of his travel crate.
  9. Don’t try to feed your pet while the car is moving. It’s best to offer a light meal a few hours before departure. If you’re traveling some distance and will be staying at a hotel in the evening, feed a second meal once your dog or cat has settled down in your room for the night. In the morning, feed some breakfast a couple hours before you get back on the road.
  10. Never leave your pet unattended in your car for any reason.

Listen, and remove the trigger. DO NOT PUNISH THE GROWL!

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

Dementia in Senior Dogs

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

Fire Your Dog Trainer If He/She

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

When Animals Mourn: Seeing That Grief Is Not Uniquely Human

Thursday, October 31st, 2019
Olaf Kraak/AFP/Getty Images
An elephant at the Emmen, Netherlands, zoo stands at the edge of a ditch in 2009, a day after another elephant fell into the ditch and died.

Eleanor was the matriarch of an elephant family called the First Ladies. One day, elephant researchers in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve saw that Eleanor was bruised and dragging her trunk on the ground. Soon, she collapsed.

Within minutes, Grace, the matriarch of another elephant family, came near. Using her trunk, she pushed Eleanor back up to a standing position. When Eleanor, greatly weakened now, thudded once again to the ground, Grace became visibly distressed: she vocalized, pushed at the body and refused to leave Eleanor’s side.

How Animals Grieve     by Barbara J. King  Hardcover, 193 pages

The breadth and depth of animal grief is the topic of my book How Animals Grieve, just published. Writing this book often moved me profoundly; through reading the science literature and conducting interviews with experienced animal caretakers, I came to understand at a new, visceral level just how extensively animals feel their lives. Elephants grieve. Great apes (think chimpanzees, bonobos) and cetaceans (such as dolphins) grieve. So do horses and rabbits, cats and dogs, even some birds.

Here at 13.7, I often write about science books. So it’s gratifying to write now about my own, especially this week when it’s the focal point of a story in Time Magazine called “The Mystery of Animal Grief.”

In my work, I define grief as some visible response to death that goes beyond curiosity or exploration to include altered daily routines plus signs of emotional distress. Horses who merely nudge or sniff at the body of a dead companion, for example, can’t be said to be grieving. Horses who stand vigil in a hushed circle, for many hours, at the fresh grave of a lost friend may well be grieving. A horse who refuses food and companionship, becomes listless and won’t follow normal routines for days when her friend dies? Why wouldn’t we see this as grief? (These examples are explained in detail in the book.)

As I’ve mentioned, it’s not only the big-brained “usual suspects” — the apes, elephants and dolphins — who grieve. In this brief video produced at The College of William and Mary (where I teach), I describe what happened when one duck named Harper, rescued by and living contentedly at Farm Sanctuary, witnesses the necessary euthanasia of his best duck friend Kohl. Emotionally, Harper simply cannot recover from his loss.

YouTube

In our own lives, when it hits hard, grief can be a wild and terrible force. In another post to come, I will outline some ways in which I think human mourning and thinking about death differs from the grief of other animals.

For now, I’ll conclude with the same words with which I close my book:

It won’t ease our deepest grief to know that animals love and grieve too. But when our mourning becomes a little less raw… may it bring genuine comfort to know how much we share with other animals? I find hope and solace in [these] stories. May you find hope and solace in them as well.


You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

Angel Fund Helps Trojan

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

One day last October, Yolanda Magallanes, took Trojan, her four-year-old pit bull mix, to get some exercise in the park across the street from her Fountain Valley home as she frequently does.  All went well until it was time to go home.

“He didn’t want to walk,” Yolanda said. “He didn’t want to go anywhere.” And when they entered her house, he defecated on the floor. “That was not normal for him. I figured he had a little tummy ache.”

When she went to bed that evening, Trojan did not come in to sleep with her. “He has done that since day one. He just wanted to lie on the tile floor.” He was lying in the same spot when she got up in the morning.

Before leaving for work, Yolanda called her sister, Irene Caudillo, and asked her to come get Trojan and take him to see her veterinarian, Dr. Mark Malo at Garden Grove Dog and Cat Hospital.  She met her sister there.  Dr. Malo did not have good news: He said that the dog was in bad shape and might be dying, she said.  He wanted to take x-rays and install an IV.

When Yolanda returned a couple of hours later, Dr. Malo said that the x-rays showed a large mass and that Trojan needed surgery.  He asked her to take the dog to a specialty hospital.

After what she described as a “royal” welcome for Trojan, the specialty hospital did an MRI and “put me in a room and said the doctor would be in soon to talk to me.”   When the doctor entered, Yolanda said, she was told that her dog had a large mass and needed surgery immediately.  There was a 65% chance that the mass was cancerous, the doctor said.

The doctor told her: “Your choice is either emergency surgery now or put him down.  If you’re keeping him alive, it’ll cost you $6,000 to $8.000 for the surgery.   And with the cancer treatments [that follow], you’ll continue to pay.”

Yolanda asked: “Where am I going to get that kind of money?  I don’t make that kind of money.  I don’t have that kind of money.  The doctor said, you might want to consider putting him down.  And I said, putting him down is not an option.”

She asked for a few minutes with family members, who were at the hospital “to figure this out.”  But the doctor told her, she said, that “we need a decision within the next few minutes.”  She felt pressured.

Yolanda began to sign the paperwork that would permit the hospital to euthanize her pet.  “But I just couldn’t go through with it,” she said.  Irene offered to lend her $4,000, the sum the hospital wanted before the surgery would be performed. After the credit card transaction, Trojan was taken into surgery.

Following the operation, Yolanda was told that the mass was not malignant and that her dog had suffered a ruptured spleen. Today, Trojan is a happy, healthy dog and Yolanda is “almost done paying the money, little by little, that I borrowed from my sister and from my bank.”

When she asked the specialty hospital about finding help for the surgery bill, they mentioned Angel Fund.  Yolanda called the fund and was impressed with how she was received.  “Angel Fund was very good to me,” she said.  “There was no waiting period and the lady I talked to was very nice and very polite.  She was great.”  She was granted $500.  After a call from Dr. Malo, she said, the specialty hospital reduced her bill by 10 percent, more than $800.  She also received a grant from another charitable group.

Yolanda did not see her relationship with the specialty hospital as one of trust.  “I didn’t feel that they were communicating with me,” she said.  The day after she took Trojan home, she took him back to see Dr. Malo.

She is a single mother who has raised two sons, 19-year-old Edward and Michael, 18, without help from their father.  Both still live at home.  She works for Advance America, a short-term loan company.

What You Likely Don’t Know About Service Animals, but Should

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • A service dog is “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability”
  • Any breed of dog can be a service animal, as can miniature horses
  • Service dogs do not require professional training and there are no required ADA certifications for service animals
  • People with disabilities are allowed to bring their service animals to all public facilities and private businesses, without providing any type of “proof” of their disability or dog’s “service animal” status
  • A service animal may also be denied access if its presence interferes with “legitimate safety requirements,” such as a hospital unit that must maintain a sterile environment
  • Service dogs should not be approached, talked to or touched, unless permission is asked for and granted by the dog’s handler

Service dogs provide invaluable support to their owners, alerting them to potentially life-threatening medical problems or offering psychiatric or visual support. While most people will never experience the close bond that exists between service dogs and their owners, most everyone will cross paths with a service dog at some point in their lives.

Despite their prevalence — you’re likely to spot one sooner or later, since service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners virtually everywhere — many misconceptions persist about these generous animals. This is partly because service dogs look like any other dog, which leads some to believe they should be treated like any other dog — which isn’t the case if the dog is “working.”

Also problematic, the U.S. has no centralized process that allows people with disabilities to register service dogs,1 which means, even though service dogs are afforded special rights, there’s a lot of grey area when it comes to how those rights are protected, for both the dogs and their owners.

Clearing up common misconceptions is an important part of ensuring that service dogs and their owners get the respect and protections they deserve.

Service Dogs Are Not the Same as Emotional Support Animals

The Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA) defines a service animal as, “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.”2

Miniature horses have been added as an exception, however, provided they are housebroken, under the handler’s control, can be accommodated by the facility and will not compromise safety regulations.

On the other hand, emotional support animals (ESAs), according to the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), can be any species of animal, who must fulfill a disability-related need and whose use is supported by a physician, psychiatrist or mental health professional. ESAs do not have to be trained to perform a particular task and do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Service Dogs Are Not Only for the Visually Impaired

Guide dogs for the visually impaired are just one type of service dog. Service dogs can be trained to help people with physical or mental difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If a veteran is experiencing anxiety or stress due to PTSD, for instance, a service dog can be trained to notice the signs and step in to provide calm and comfort.

They may wake a veteran up from nightmares and are also taught specific commands, including “block,” in which the dog stands in front of the veteran to provide for more personal space, and “cover,” in which the dog goes behind the veteran to “watch their back.”3 Other examples of tasks that service animals may perform include:4

Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds Providing non-violent protection or rescue work
Pulling a wheelchair Assisting an individual during a seizure Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens
Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities Helping people with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors

Not All Service Dogs Are Professionally Trained

Service dogs do not require professional training and there are no required ADA certifications for service animals. While most service dogs come from reputable trainers or organizations that specialize in training service dogs, according to the ADA, “People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.”5

That being said, many service dogs undergo about two years of training before they’re ready and will continue to learn and adapt to their owner’s changing needs over time.6 There are also misconceptions about what type of dog can be a service dog; according to the ADA, any dog breed can be a service animal.

In choosing a service dog, personality is often more important than breed; dogs who are fearful or aggressive are not well suited to be service dogs.

Can Service Dogs Ever Be Denied Access?

People with disabilities are allowed to bring their service animals to all public facilities and private businesses. The owners of a business may ask two questions to determine if the animal is a service animal — and only if the need for the service animal isn’t obvious (such as a dog guiding someone who is blind. Those questions are:7

  • Is this animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?

Beyond this, no further questioning or “proof” is needed. As noted by the ADA, “A public entity or private business may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability or require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal, or require the animal to wear an identifying vest.”8

Generally, service animals are allowed to go where their owners go, but there are a few exceptions in which a business can ask for a service animal to be removed, including if the animal is out of control or not housebroken. A service animal may also be denied access if its presence interferes with “legitimate safety requirements,” such as a hospital unit that must maintain a sterile environment.9

Should You Pet a Service Dog?

One important point to remember is that certain rules of etiquette apply when it comes to interacting with service dogs and their handlers. Generally speaking, don’t interact with them at all; let the dog and the owner go about their business uninterrupted.

Service dogs should not be approached, talked to or touched unless permission is asked for and granted by the dog’s handler, but take no offense if the handler asks you not to interact with the dog — doing so could distract him from his important role, which is to look out for the health and safety of his owner.

Pet Partners at Petco in La Habra

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Several AHF Pet Partners teams were at Petco in La Habra on Saturday, October 12th, CA to talk to people about Pet Therapy!

Team from Left to Right are:  Katy Trumbo and Delilah, Daleen Comer and Cloud the Dove, Ingrid Eck Pullen and Cody and Jane Horsefield and Kiss.

 

Owning a dog tied to lowering your risk of dying early by 24%, says science

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN

Updated 2:40 PM ET, Tue October 8, 2019
“Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause,” said Mount Sinai endocrinologist Dr. Caroline Kramer, lead author of a new systematic review of nearly 70 years of global research published Tuesday in “Circulation,” a journal of the American Heart Association.
The review of the health benefits of man’s best friend analyzed research involving 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 all cause mortality,” said Kramer, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Toronto.
The meta-analysis found an even bigger benefit for people who had already had a heart attack or stroke.
“For those people, having a dog was even more beneficial. They had a 31% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease,” Kramer said.

Dogs and surviving illness

separate study of more than 336,000 Swedish men and women, also published Tuesday in “Circulation,” likewise found people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after suffering a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke.
Heart attacks and stroke are the leading causes of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.
The benefit was highest for dog owners who lived alone.
“The most interesting part of this study was that people who lived alone actually seem to get the greatest benefit in both the heart attack group and the stroke group,” said dog owner Dr. Martha Gulati, who is the editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology’s patient education platform.
“People who lived with a dog actually had less mortality than people living alone who didn’t have a dog,” said Gulati, who was not involved in either study.
Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared to people who did not own a dog. Stroke survivors living alone had a 27% reduced risk of death.
“We know that loneliness and social isolation are strong risk factors for premature death and our hypothesis was that the company of a pet can alleviate that,” said study author Tove Fall, an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“Single owners have to do all the dog walks and we know that physical activity is important in rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction or stroke,” Fall added.

Observational but significant

Both published studies were observational, meaning that researchers cannot prove that dog ownership was the direct cause of the increased life expectancy or the better health outcomes after heart attack and stroke; only a randomized clinical trial could answer those questions.
“Is it the dog or is it the behaviors?” Gulati asked. “Is it because you’re exercising or is it because there is a difference in the type of person who would choose to have a dog versus somebody who would not? Are they healthier or wealthier? We don’t know those things.”
The American Heart Association points to studies that found pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.
“There are studies suggesting that individuals who have dogs have a better cholesterol profile and lower blood pressure,” said Kramer, who is a dog owner.
“One study, my favorite, found just the effect of petting a dog can reduce your blood pressure as much as a medication,” Kramer said.
Other studies suggest dogs provide companionship and affection that can reduce anxiety and depression. That’s especially important after a major illness, such as a heart attack or stroke.
“We know that if you have depression after a heart attack, you’re more likely to have a poor outcome,” Gulati said, which is one reason so many hospitals have begun using therapy dogs for cardiac patients.
In fact, a number of cardiologists believe in the benefits of dog ownership so much they will actually prescribe a dog for their patients, if they believe the person can appropriately care for a pet.
“I know a lot of my patients often say to me after they have a heart attack or stroke, can I even take care of a dog? They worry because they don’t want to leave the dog alone if something happens to them,” Gulati said.
“But if possible, I always encourage them to get a dog,” she said, “perhaps an older dog who needs to be rescued and not a puppy that will be harder to manage.”

What’s the takeaway?

“While these non-randomized studies cannot ‘prove’ that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this,” said Dr. Glenn Levine, chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on pet ownership.
However, the AHA also says that pet ownership 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.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show dogs decrease stress and promote relaxation and impact nearly all stages of our lives.
“They influence social, emotional and cognitive development in children, promote an active lifestyle, and have even been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers,” the CDC said.
Does that mean that even younger people benefit from having a dog?
“The overall understanding of cardiovascular health is that the earlier that we implement healthier behaviors, the better,” Kramer said. “So like walking, not smoking. And I think that maybe dog ownership is part of that.”