You may not think so when you get a heart-stopping veterinarian bill or when all your dog does is laze on the couch and watch TV with you but dog ownership actually can provide a variety of health benefits.
Anecdotal and scientific evidence have shown that dog owners tend to be healthier than the average person. Here are seven ways that living with a dog might keep you healthy.
They can detect cancer
Scientific reports of dogs sniffing out cancerous growths go back at least two decades. According to a 1989 case study in The Lancet, a patient reported that her dog would constantly sniff at a mole on her leg, and once even tried to bite the lesion off. Prompted by this, she had her mole checked out and found it to be a malignant melanoma.
But dogs are not only good at sniffing out skin cancer, some can also detect bladder, lung, breast, ovarian and colon cancer. In fact, a specially trained eight-year-old black Labrador named Panda correctly detected colorectal cancer in 33 out of 37 samples of people’s breath and stool that scientists had collected. Moreover, according to the article in the journal Gut published this year, Panda appeared to be highly accurate at detecting early-stage colorectal cancer.
It’s unclear whether such dogs are zeroing in on some unknown, tumor-related volatile compounds, or more conventional substances in body fluids associated with an increased risk of cancer, such as metabolites of cigarettes, the researchers said. However, in this experiment, Panda identified cancer patients even among bodyfluid samples from people with inflammation, a history of smoking, or other diseases.
They can keep you active
This is perhaps no surprise to owners that frequently walk or exercise with their dogs. After all, dogs are more likely to beg for a walk or a game of fetch than other house pets.
According to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health, children with dogs spent more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than children without dogs.
And this effect extends to adult dog owners. According to a 2006 study done by Canadian researchers at the University of Victoria, dog owners were more likely to participate in mild to moderate physical activity. They walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with non-dog owners, who walked an average of 168 minutes per week.
The difference between dog owners and those who do not own a pet may be less dramatic, but still significant in a 2008 study by the National Cancer Institute, dog owners only walked 19 minutes more per week by comparison.
Regardless, this still hinges on your willingness to walk the dog in the first place. According to a 2006 study by Johns Hopkins University researchers, while dog ownership might obligate owners to walk their dogs, only a fraction of owners walked their dogs at least three times a week, and that fraction was especially among elderly dog owners. Therefore, even though dog ownership might promote walking activity and motivate both the dog and the owner to go outside for some fresh air, you’re not going to experience those benefits if you’re too reluctant to walk the dog.
They can tell when you have low blood sugar
Some trained dogs seem to detect low blood sugar levels. According to a 2000 article in the British Medical Journal, more than one-third of dogs living with diabetic people have been reported to display behavioral changes when their owners’ blood sugar drops, sometimes even before patients themselves were aware of it. In two case studies cited by the paper, the dogs not only detected their owners’ falling glucose levels, they even nudged their owners into eating.