Best friends: Health benefits of dog ownership

The dog has been with us for more than 20,000 - 40,000 years, through good and bad times. And brings with it quiet a few health benefits.

Reduction of cardiovascular risk through pets

Various scientific studies have shown that interaction with animals can have positive physiological effects on humans: For example, the associated reduction in blood pressure and heart rate leads to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. There is evidence that dog owners have lower plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels in addition to lower blood pressure. Compared to non-dog owners, they have a better survival rate after a myocardial infarction. Dog owners also had a lower response to laboratory-induced psychological stress. An improvement in emotional state due to pet ownership has been associated with reduced central and regional autonomic activity, improved endothelial function, and fewer cardiac arrhythmias.1,2

The commitment to walking saves lives

Other positive effects are based on the regular physical activity of dog owners. Regular exercise has been shown to prevent the development of many diseases by significantly reducing all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality. It is considered an effective treatment for around 26 chronic diseases. These include high blood pressure, depression, cognitive decline, osteoarthritis and type 2 diabetes.3

Dogs help against atopy in infancy

In a 2008 study, a total of 275 children at increased risk for developing allergic diseases were tested for the following factors: Pet ownership, cytokine responses in the blood and atopy. The concentrations of Can f 1, Fel d 1, endotoxin, ergosterol and muramic acid were measured in the house dust of 101 homes. Analysis of the data thus obtained led to a significant result: exposure to dogs in infancy, especially around the time of birth, had been associated with reduced atopic dermatitis (AD) (12% vs. 27%; P=0.004) and wheezing (19% vs. 36%; P=0.005) in the third year of life. Concerning the Can f 1 concentrations in the bedroom dust, there was a positive correlation with the interleukins IL-10, IL-5 and IL-13 in the first year of life and with IL-5 and IL-13 in the third year of life. However, the results could not be explained by exposure to endotoxin, ergosterol, or muramic acid.4,5

Dogs have a preventive effect on asthma-associated genetic risk variants

A recently published study (n = 9149) examined gene-environment interactions (GxE) between the 17q12-21 locus and childhood pet ownership in relation to wheezing. The multinomial logistic regression analysis performed provided important insights into a possible association between the 17q12-21 asthma risk variant rs2305480 and pet ownership. Among people without pets, the rs2305480 G allele had been associated with an increased risk of persistent wheezing. However, among dog owners, this increased risk did not occur. Unfortunately, no such attenuation of the genetic effect was observed among the cat owners. The research group concluded that early childhood environmental influences may attenuate the likelihood of asthma in carriers of 17q12-21 risk alleles and that owning a dog may have a preventive effect on the development of asthma.6

Perhaps we as humans should start living more with nature and not against it. The preventive effects listed here clearly speak for this. The world used to be in symbiotic harmony before humans massively intervened in ecosystems in the last decades and polluted the environment with microplastics and all kinds of poisons for themselves and all other living beings.

  1. Snipelisky D. et al. (2014). Canine-assisted therapy in the inpatient setting. South Med J. 2014 Apr;107(4):265-73.  
  2. Arhant-Sudhir K. et al. (2011). Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: supporting evidence, conflicting data and underlying mechanisms. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2011 Nov;38(11):734-8. 
  3. Robinson LA. Dog Ownership Is the Best Preventive 'Medicine' for Patients. Am J Med. 2021 Jun;134(6):710-712. 
  4. Bufford JD. et al. (2008). Effects of dog ownership in early childhood on immune development and atopic diseases. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008 Oct;38(10):1635-43. 
  5. Gern JE. et al. (2004). Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 Feb;113(2):307-14. 
  6. Tutino M. et al. (2023). Dog ownership in infancy is protective for persistent wheeze in 17q21 asthma-risk carriers. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Volume 151, Issue 2, 2023, Pages 423-430, ISSN 0091-6749.