A UK study reveals that owning a dog is good for your health. And having a pet dog improves your physical and mental wellbeing more than having a cat.

This is the conclusion of a study by a senior lecturer, Dr Deborah Wells, from the Canine Behaviour Centre of Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Dr Wells has published her study in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

The study is a review of research papers that have explored the connection between domestic dog ownership and human wellbeing. In her research Dr Wells found papers that suggest domestic dog ownership can prevent people from getting ill, recover more quickly when they do fall ill, and give warning of early signs of cancer, seizures and hypoglycaemia.

She also explored the research into dogs and human psychological health, including the therapeutic role that dogs play in aiding the disabled and also in hospitals, prisons and residential homes.

An Israeli research paper said it was likely that animal companions helped people with schizophrenia feel motivated and calmer. And another UK study suggested that the companionship of a dog helped children with chronic illnesses endure painful treatments.

Some of the evidence was found to be weak, but in other areas Dr Wells found strong evidence to suggest that dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and are less likely to have minor and serious health problems.

In one paper dated 1985, Dr Wells found that dog owners had an 8.6 higher one year survival rate after a heart attack compared to people who did not have a dog.

Dr Wells suggests there could be a number of reasons for the health benefits of dog ownership. There is the more obvious direct effect of increased physical activity, but then there are also indirect effects such as that brought by increased social contact and the possibility that the human-dog bond provides a psychological buffer against stress.

Comparing cat and dog ownership, Dr Wells found evidence that people who take cats and dogs from rescue centres reported reductions in minor health problems such as headaches, dizzy spells and colds as soon as one month after taking their new companion home. However, it was only those people who had taken dogs, as opposed to cats, that still had the improved health conditions up to ten months later.

Guidelines for the control and responsible ownership of dogs (Australian Government).

Article on Dogs Smell Cancer in Patients’ Breath (National Geographic).

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today