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"The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month."
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 3 March 2019  

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Dr. Jim Humphries

  Eight scientific reasons to get a dog
  By Dr. Jim Humphries

   Most of us don’t need any reason, much less scientific reasons, for sharing life with a good ole’ dog. But I thought it was time to remind us how truly good dogs are for us, mentally and physically – and that these effects are proven through solid research. Here you go.
   Dogs are good for your heart! According to the American Heart Association (and countless other studies over the past few decades), dogs can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. The Centers for Disease Control states that dog owners enjoy lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure readings than non-dog owners, which makes it worth paying those veterinary bills and picking up the backyard waste.
   Dogs reduce anxiety and depression. As you can imagine, dogs have been helpful to people with post traumatic stress disorder. Schools and hospitals offer pet therapy to help with depression, homesickness and other issues. It is too bad that insurance does not cover “dog-a-day” therapy.
   Exercise! Dog owners are 34 percent more likely to get weekly exercise than non-dog owners –- and certainly cat owners. I’ve heard cats actually encourage you to stay on the couch. In light of the most recent finding that our nation is more overweight and obese than in the past 20 years, the National Institutes of Health has found that dog owners have a significantly lower rate of obesity and remain more active into old age. The simple fact of getting out two to three times a day to take your dog for a short walk is keeping you healthier.
   Dogs decrease stress! Petting your dog can increase endorphin release and decrease cortisol, “the stress chemical.” This was easy to prove, as some people experienced increased output of endorphins and dopamine after just five minutes with their pet. Other research shows that bringing a dog to work can help reduce stress and make the workday better — and probably go by faster. The Delta Society, and many others, continue to study this and track new findings, but the news just keeps getting better.
   Dogs can be a good CAT scan. Research has found that dogs can be trained to sniff out breast and lung cancer, just from your breath. In another study, dogs were able to identify urine from a patient with prostate cancer, with 91 percent accuracy. Cancer is only one of the few diseases that dogs have been trained to sniff out. Along this line, dogs have been known to be a reliable advanced warning tool for people with epilepsy. These “seizure alert dogs” will sit in front of the owner or use some other signal to improve the quality of their partner’s life by alerting them up to an hour ahead of time that a seizure is imminent. This gives the owner time to take precautions such as lying down or leaving crowded environments.
   Dog owners have better self-esteem. Along with an overall improved self-image, dog owners seem to be better at bouncing back from rejection. On the flip side, most people are 85 percent more approachable when they have a dog at their side, and here is some good news: 60 percent of the opposite sex believes you are more attractive when you are with a dog. You can go now to change your Facebook profile photo!
   Healthier kids: Research shows children who grow up with pets are healthier and have fewer allergies than those who live in a pet-free household. When animals are allowed to bring in more dirt and microbes from outdoors, it strengthens a baby's’ immune systems at a faster pace. Dogs also improve children’s self-esteem. And psychologically, children who are raised with dogs are less likely to join a gang or be involved in violent crime.
   Dogs help you stop smoking. Many smokers said they quit when they learned that smoke was harmful to their dog. Dogs also boost your immune system and help you recover from illness, twice as quickly as you would on your own. 
   Dogs help us live longer, look better and exercise more; they reduce our stress, lower our blood pressure, help us recover faster; and they can even find some hidden diseases; they boost our immune system and are a reliable shoulder to cry on. Some have big soft ears for listening. If dogs were a new drug, they would cost thousands of dollars for a monthly prescription; they would be in every TV commercial; and celebrities would be clamoring to be the spokesperson. In reality, all our dog friends want in return is food, fun, walks and love!
Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian and provides hospice and end-of-life car for pets in the Colorado Springs area. He also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes.
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