Sunday, February 4, 2007

Man’s Best Friend is Indeed in Need: Dogs Role in Reducing Stress

In today’s fast-paced life in which people seem to never stop working, shown below, stress can play a drastic toll on one’s physical and mental health. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported from a survey that 34% had difficulty in sleeping because they were too stressed out. Not only is it important to be aware of the impact stress can have on our bodies, but it is also vital to recognize ways to reduce such ill-causing tension.

Research at the Baker Medical Research Institute has shown that owning a pet can have great health benefits including lowering blood pressure, and lowering risk factors for cardiovascular disease. According to Janet Crosby, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), owners of pets also benefit from lower cholesterol, reduced stress levels, and better overall mental health. According to Dr. Allan Schwartz, in a study conducted in 2006 at the State University of New York at Buffalo where participants were subjected to stress-induced tasks, those who were allowed to have their dogs present during the task resulted in the lowest stress response in regards to blood pressure and heart rate. The presence of a dog can provide social support in the form of comfort, companionship, and happiness, which reduces feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Almost anyone who owns a dog can probably vouch for the fact that these animals provide tremendous joy, love, and devotion. A key explanation for why they are such successful pets is because they simply want to please their owners. It is one reason why they are used so commonly in pet therapy in hospital and nursing centers, as well as for the disabled, shown in the picture to the right. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, studies have shown that owning a dog played a significant role on survival rates in heart attack victims, as these animals help people cope with illness, loss, and even depression. He also states that research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that interactions with dogs cause changes in hormones, including serotonin, which help individuals cope with stress-related disorders or other illnesses. In addition, non-pet owners, specifically those living without dogs, are “exposed to more persistent fears, increased feelings of panic, experience more frequent headaches, and take more medication for stress-induced illnesses than pet owners.”

It is no surprise that coming home from a long day at work to see that tail wagging fervently because of your arrival can suddenly uplift one’s spirits. Activities as simple as playing fetch, fishing, hiking, or going for a walk with your dog like the picture shown to the left can be a remedy for reducing stress, and improving our emotions, according to Tom Canavan. In addition to their company, the exercise and fresh air is beneficial to one’s health. While it is easy to stay inside on the couch, watching a favorite TV show or surfing the Internet, getting outside incorporates necessary physical activity with release from the stresses of work and everyday life to help one remain healthy. Canavan states how the laughter and enjoyment received from watching your dog’s behavior provides the pleasure and emotional relief needed to reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, he notes how dogs are non-critical and may provide unconditional affection for their masters without the expectation of something in return, which is in “sharp contrast to the stresses and strains of everyday human relationships.”

Because it is true that having a pet, especially a dog, requires great amounts of time, care, effort, and responsibility, it may be important to see the negative side of owning a dog, in addition to the positive side. Some critics of owning dogs may argue how dogs can increase stress by increasing the amount of demands placed on their owner. A considerable amount of time is needed to take care of a dog, including time spent on training it, walking it, and feeding it. In addition, money must be spent on food, toys, shots, and emergency care visits. Nevertheless, for the majority of individuals, the benefits of owning a dog outweigh the drawbacks considerably. It is evident that having a dog can provide great happiness and companionship, while improving health and a sense of well-being. A new dog can easily buy its way into one’s heart, and the constant love and support that is provided from a dog will result in great mood and health-enhancing benefits, which will make it impossible for one to believe that (s)he ever once lived without this remarkable furry friend.

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