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Those living with a dog tend to live longer

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Dog owners have a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to a comprehensive new study published by a team of Swedish researchers.

The scientists followed 3.4 million people over the course of 12 years and found that adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study than adults who lived alone without dogs.

In addition, the single adults with dogs were 36 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, the study said.

While it’s already accepted that dog ownership can boost activity levels and lower blood pressure, especially among older people, the study was the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, according to WebMD.

The Swedish scientists analyzed seven national data registries in Sweden, including two dog ownership registers, to study the association between owning a dog and cardiovascular health.

And while their findings are Sweden-specific, they believe they probably apply to other European countries with a similar attitude to dog ownership.

Interestingly, they also found a connection between positive health effects and breeds.

“In general hunting type breeds had the most protective estimates, while mixed breeds and toy breeds the least,” said Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

The study doesn’t explain how dogs may be responsible for providing protection from cardiovascular disease, but Tove speculated higher levels of activity and social contact lead to better health.

tove_dog_health“As a veterinarian I heard many stories on that vast impact a dog can have on their owner’s well-being and also on their physical activity levels,” she said.

The study’s authors suggested dog owners may have a lower risk because they walk more, feel less isolated and have more social contacts.

More than 3.4 million individuals, aged 40 to 80, were included in the study, which was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” said Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University and the lead junior author of the study.

The link between dog ownership and lower mortality was less pronounced in adults who lived either with family members or partners, but still present, according to the study.

(Photo: My dog Ace; Tove, with her puppy, Vega)

Two new studies show dogs can protect children from allergies, eczema

SONY DSC Even before your human baby is born, having a dog in the house can protect him or her against developing allergic eczema.

According to a study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, babies born in a home with a dog during pregnancy receive protection from allergic eczema, at least in their early years.

The study was one on two presented at the conference in Boston dealing with protections dogs provide to children with allergies — even allergies to dogs.

In the second study, researchers examined the effects of two different types of dog exposure on children with asthma in Baltimore, according to Medical News Today.

The first type was the protein, or allergen, that affects children who are allergic to dogs. The second type were elements, such as bacteria, that a dog might carry.

The researchers concluded that exposure to the elements that dogs carry may have a protective effect against asthma symptoms. But exposure to the allergen may result in more asthma symptoms among urban children with dog allergy.

“Among urban children with asthma who were allergic to dogs, spending time with a dog might be associated with two different effects,” says Po-Yang Tsou, MD, MPH, lead author. “There seems to be a protective effect on asthma of non-allergen dog-associated exposures, and a harmful effect of allergen exposure.”

In the first study, led by ACAAI member Dr. Gagandeep Cheema, researchers investigated how exposure to dogs before birth influenced the risk of childhood eczema.

Eczema is a condition characterized by rashes and patches of dry, itchy skin, most commonly on the hands, feet, face, elbows and knees.

While the causes of eczema remain unclear, it is believed to arise when the immune system overreacts in response to certain allergens or irritants.

“Although eczema is commonly found in infants, many people don’t know there is a progression from eczema to food allergies to nasal allergies and asthma,” Cheema said in a press release. “We wanted to know if there was a protective effect in having a dog that slowed down that progress.”

“We found a mother’s exposure to dogs before the birth of a child is significantly associated with lower risk of eczema by age 2 years, but this protective effect goes down at age 10,” says allergist Edward M. Zoratti, MD, ACAAI member and a study co-author.

(A girl and her dog in Baltimore, by John Woestendiek)

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter joins USC staff — but let’s not call him a “facility dog”

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The University of Southern California has added a new staff member at its student health center, and he’s already making people feel better.

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter is a black, two-year-old goldendoodle.

After witnessing the positive effects visiting therapy dogs had on students, university officials decided they should have one based in the student health center full time.

The addition of Beau to the staff makes USC one of the few universities in the United States with a full-time “facility dog” on staff, USC News reported.

We applaud the university for that — but not for the label “facility dog.”

Surely all the great minds at that institution could have come up with a better term than that.

As the university Office for Wellness and Health Promotion explained it,
“a facility dog is similar to a therapy dog, but rather than being trained to work periodically with individuals, he’s trained to work with a multitude of people on a regular basis in a facility such as a hospital, school or nursing home.”

Why not just call him what he is, a therapy dog? There should be no stigma attached to that, and no need to tiptoe around it. Everybody needs therapy, especially a student, particularly during finals.

Calling him a “facility dog” is pretty vague. Defining him by the building he works in, as opposed to his job/mission, is a little insulting, like the term “junkyard dog.”

And “facility” is so similar to “faculty” that some hastily compiled news reports are calling him the latter.

beauregard3Beau (and perhaps that’s the best thing to call him) is not officially a faculty member. Possibly he is teaching students more than many professors manage, but he is staff, not faculty.

Beau did come to campus with a curriculum vitae, though. He was trained at Canine Angels Service Teams in Oregon.

He has office hours, and his own business cards, and paw prints lead students to his location at the Engemann Student Health Center.

He was purchased with money from a donation by the Trojan League of Los Angeles, an alumni group, to promote student wellness.

Beau has been on campus for a few weeks now. He goes home at night with Amanda Vanni, his handler and a health promotion specialist at the center.

In hiring Beau, the university seems to be acknowledging all the research that shows dogs can help decrease stress, create a sense of calm and well being, and that contact with them can increase serotonin, beta-endorphin and oxytocin – chemicals and hormones that make people happy.

Paula Lee Swinford, director of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, said Beau will also help create a sense of community at USC.

“We wanted to do something that would change our culture,” she said. “What Beau brings is a consistent relationship for students. … He will remember them.”

Speaking of culture change, the university might want to take another look at its antiquated policy that bans dogs from classrooms, university housing, offices and research areas because they can be “disruptive as well as unsanitary.”

(Photos by Gus Ruelas / USC)

Woof or roof: A dilemma for the homeless

When you’re homeless, you can run into a lot of Catch 22’s — those can’t-win situations that, even when you’re taking steps to improve your life, tend to make things appear even more hopeless.

Having a dog is a perfect example.

To a homeless person, having a dog (or, in the case of our Monday post, a cat) can have numerous benefits: Protection, for one. It can instill a greater will to survive and succeed. It can provide some self-esteem, emotional security, and companionship for sure — the kind that comes without judgment.

While some segments of society may be repulsed by the sight of you, your dog will always be thrilled.

But having a dog when you’re homeless can also be a tremendous obstacle — keeping you from being admitted to homeless shelters, finding the money to feed it, and making already problematic chores, like going to the bathroom, even more problematic.

Still, it’s not unusual that, when given a choice between shelter and their dog, the dog often comes first — as has been the case so far with a recently homeless woman and her boxer mix, named Cow, featured in a two-part series in the Toledo Blade this week.

“She is my whole world, my rock. I don’t know what I’d do without her.” 51-year-old Diann Wears said of her dog.

Wears, who in earlier stages of her troubled life worked as a prostitute and was addicted to crack, said it is her first time living on the streets.

wearsandcowShe says she left an abusive five-year relationship in July, and now she sleeps, with Cow, behind the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Toledo.

“It’s totally new to me and totally scary, I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “But Cow and I, we have each other, and she gives me a lot of love and support.”

She says she tried to find an apartment that her Social Security and Supplemental Security Income would cover, but “they either turned me down because of Cow, or because I don’t make enough money.”

She has no intention of parting with Cow, she said.

Toledo’s homeless shelters — like most across the country — do not allow pets, and she was rejected, she said, by a YWCA shelter that provides haven for women fleeing domestic violence and their pets.

“They don’t think I’m in danger from my ex,” Wears said.

So Wears and Cow remain without shelter — unless you count the overhang of the bus station’s roof.

Having a dog, Wears noted, makes simple tasks, like attending a free meal, more difficult. She either has to leave Cow outside, leashed to her shopping cart, or find a friend she trusts enough to watch him.

Sometimes, she says, it’s hard to simply find a place in the shade to rest — without being told to leave, either because of the dog or because she is loitering.

She often sits on the grass at St. Paul United Methodist Church, where the pastor allows her to stay as long as neither she nor Cow causes any trouble, the Blade reported. (You can find part two of the series here.)

“We don’t bother anybody, but people judge us anyway because we’re homeless,” Diann said. “Or they’re afraid of Cow, even when she’s just lying there.”

Wears said Cow provides her some protection during the night.

Unsure as she is of the future, she is committed to two things — keeping Cow by her side and not going back to her abusive boyfriend.

“It’s hard out here, but I’m away from that at least I’ll take my chances out here. I have my dog and we’ll survive one way or the other, some kind of way.”

(Photo: The Toledo Blade)

Two hearts beating as one? Study suggests, with dogs and owners, it’s almost true

Even though this may be more marketing than science, we can’t help but like the results of this experiment in Australia.

Researchers, in an experiment funded by Pedigree, found that not only do our heart rates lower when we and our pets are together (as everybody knows by now), but they begin to mirror one another.

True, only three dogs and owners were involved in the study. True, the main interest of the company that sponsored it is to sell dog food. And true, what’s new about their findings — how closely the heart rates align — is probably of more poetic than practical use.

But still … It’s good to have a little science (if it can be called that) confirm our feelings of being in sync with our dogs.

In the experiment, three Australian dog owners separated, and then reunited with their pet in a staged but homey setting to see what kind of effect they had on each other’s heart rate.

Both dogs and owners were equipped with heart monitors.

“There was a really strong coherence in the heart rate pattern of both the owner and dog. Upon being reunited within the first minute, each heart rhythm became almost directly aligned and we saw a reduction straight away,” Mia Cobb, canine scientist and demonstration co-conductor told The Huffington Post Australia.

“This project is a really good illustration of what most owners experience every night when they come home from work and are reunited with their companion,” she added.

Some recommended reading: “Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself”

Dog_Medicine.cvr_Seems that hardly a month goes by that we’re not reading about — and duly reporting on — some new scientific study showing how dogs, for us humans, are good medicine.

Whether its lowering our blood pressure, upping our oxytocin (that hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy), or keeping us sane (no small task), you can bet there’s a study underway at some university somewhere seeking to unravel — and dryly present to us — more hard evidence of yet another previously mysterious way that dogs enhance our well-being.

Given that, it’s a nice change of pace to plunge into a more anecdotal account — one that looks at the near magical mental health benefits one woman reaped through her dog, and does so with candor and humor, as opposed to sappiness.

“Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself” is a book that shows, far better than any scientific study, just how valuable — no, make that priceless — the human-dog bond is.

The memoir spans a year in the life of the author, Julie Barton, starting when, just one year out of college and living in Manhattan, she had what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”

A barely coherent phone call from her kitchen floor brought her mother racing to her side from Ohio to take her home.

Barton was diagnosed with major depression — one that didn’t seem to lift, despite the best efforts of family, doctors, therapists and the pharmaceutical industry. She spent entire days in bed, refusing to get up.

Around the same time doctors started her on Zoloft, Barton told her mother she’d like to get a dog. Her mother thought that was a great idea. A few weeks later, they were bringing home a golden retriever pup. Barton named him Bunker.

On that first night, Bunker started whimpering in his crate, and Barton crawled inside with him:

“It occurred to me as I gently stroked his side that this was the first time in recent memory that I was reassuring another living thing. And, miraculously, I knew in that moment that I was more than capable of caring for him. I felt enormously driven to create a space for Bunker that felt safe, free of all worry, fear and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had a purpose.”

Barton’s depression didn’t lift overnight; it never does. But, as the artfully written story unravels, Bunker gives Barton the confidence she needs to start a new life on her own in Seattle.

The are plenty of bumps ahead, and more than a few tests, but, given we’re recommending you read it for yourself, we won’t divulge them here.

The book is being released in November by Think Piece Publishing, but you can pre-order it here.

Or you can wait for the next scientific study that comes along, proclaiming — in heartless, soulless prose — to prove one way or another what we already know:

Dogs are good for the heart and soul.

Kiss me, you dog (I need the probiotics)

Before you wipe off that next dog kiss — not that too many ohmidog! readers are the sort that do that — you might want to think about this:

Some of those doggy bacteria that dog-disliking alarmists and hand-wringing medical types are always warning us about might actually be good for you.

As with Greek yogurt and kimchee, some of the microbes lurking in a dog’s gut could have a probiotic effect on the owners’ body, aiding in both digestion and overall health.

Researchers at the University of Arizona are now seeking volunteers to take part in a study to prove just that — and here’s the coolest part: Volunteers, if they want, can keep the shelter dog assigned to them when the study is done.

The “Dogs as Probiotics” study will focus specifically on the effect dogs have on the health of older people — in terms of physical well-being, mental well-being and cognitive functioning.

kelly“We already know that dogs make us happier and in some ways healthier. The main point of this study is to try and understand whether or not there is an actual biological component behind this,” Kim Kelly, a UA doctoral student in medical anthropology, and one of the study’s primary investigators,
told the Arizona Daily Star.

“This has the potential to change the field in terms of how we understand, think about and use microbes to improve our health,” she said.

The study team is recruiting adults over the age of 50 and asking them to live with a dog from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona for three months.

Both the human and canine subjects will undergo tests of an non-invasive sort during the study to determine whether or not the positive microbes in the humans increase, and whether it correlates with improved immune measures in older adults.

Probiotics are often referred as “good” or “helpful” bacteria. They can help keep the intestines healthy, assist in digesting food, and are believed to help the immune system.

Kelly, along with researchers at the University of San Diego and the University of Colorado, will explore whether living with a dog encourages the growth of positive micro organisms in the human gut.

“We essentially want to find out, is a dog acting like yogurt in having a probiotic effect,” she said.

In addition, researchers will monitor participants for any changes in the mental health and emotional well-being.

Once the scientists are done, human participants will have the option of keeping the dog they kept in their home during the study.

We’re guessing that — whether their digestion has improved or not — most of them will.

Who wouldn’t want someone who has been kissing them for three months to hang around?

(Video: Attendees at the SPCA of Maryland’s March for the Animals, 2009, receiving some free probiotics from my dog Ace; photo: Kim Kelly and her cocker spaniel Katie, courtesy of Kim Kelly)