ChiroACCESS Article

Dogs to the Rescue

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ChiroACCESS Editorial Staff



Published on

May 25, 2012

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Dogs have a great capacity to assist humans and have historically played many roles in their synergistic relationship with us.  There are a reported 78 million dogs in the United States and 40% of U.S. households have at least one dog, so their impact on our lives should not be underestimated.  Dogs assist us with search and rescue, serve as guards and alarm systems, protect families, identify dangerous or banned substances, assist the disabled and reduce risks to our soldiers to the point of laying down their lives in wartime.  As important as all of these roles are, they shouldn’t overshadow the health promotion contribution of dogs. 
Research suggests that our canine friends can provide a significant contribution to our mental and physical health.  In an era of epidemic obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, humans often seek high tech or chemical solutions when the answer could be right under our (dog’s) noses.  Studies demonstrate the ability to train dogs with their gifted sense of smell to diagnose several conditions. 
Perhaps their greatest strength, at least based upon the published scientific literature to date, is to assist in keeping us healthy.  The physical benefits associated with walking or playing fetch with your dog cannot be ignored.  Greater than any other human animal companion, the rewards of dog ownership include improved physical, mental and social well-being.

Note:  These mini-reviews are designed as updates and direct the reader to the full text of current research.  The abstracts presented here are no substitute for reading and critically reviewing the full text of the original research.  Where permitted we will direct the reader to that full text.

Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership.  [Link]

J Pers Soc Psychol. Dec;101(6):1239-52. Epub 2011 Jul 4.

McConnell AR, Brown CM, Shoda TM, Stayton LE, Martin CE.
Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA.

Social support is critical for psychological and physical well-being, reflecting the centrality of belongingness in our lives. Human interactions often provide people with considerable social support, but can pets also fulfill one's social needs? Although there is correlational evidence that pets may help individuals facing significant life stressors, little is known about the well-being benefits of pets for everyday people. Study 1 found in a community sample that pet owners fared better on several well-being (e.g., greater self-esteem, more exercise) and individual-difference (e.g., greater conscientiousness, less fearful attachment) measures. Study 2 assessed a different community sample and found that owners enjoyed better well-being when their pets fulfilled social needs better, and the support that pets provided complemented rather than competed with human sources. Finally, Study 3 brought pet owners into the laboratory and experimentally demonstrated the ability of pets to stave off negativity caused by social rejection. In summary, pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners.

Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: supporting evidence, conflicting data and underlying mechanisms.  [Link]

Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2011 Nov;38(11):734-8.

Arhant-Sudhir K, Arhant-Sudhir R, Sudhir K.
Center for Cardiovascular Technology, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford Leland High School, San José, CA, USA.

It is widely believed that pet ownership is beneficial to humans and that some of this benefit is through favourable effects on cardiovascular risk. In the present review, we critically examine the evidence in support of this hypothesis and present the available data with respect to major cardiovascular risk factors. 2. There is evidence that dog owners are less sedentary and have lower blood pressure, plasma cholesterol and triglycerides, attenuated responses to laboratory-induced mental stress and improved survival following myocardial infarction compared with non-pet owners. However, conflicting data exist with regard to the association between pet ownership and each of these risk factors. 3. Numerous non-cardiovascular effects of pet ownership have been reported, largely in the psychosocial domain, but the relationship is complex and can vary with demographic and social factors. 4. A unifying hypothesis is presented, linking improved mood and emotional state to decreased central and regional autonomic activity, improved endothelial function and, thus, lower blood pressure and reduced cardiac arrhythmias. 5. Overall, ownership of domestic pets, particularly dogs, is associated with positive health benefits.

Unleashing their potential: a critical realist scoping review of the influence of dogs on physical activity for dog-owners and non-owners.  [Link]

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011 May 21;8:46.

Toohey AM, Rock MJ.
Population Health Intervention Research Centre, University of Calgary, Teaching, Research and Wellness Building Room (3rd floor), 3280 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB, T2N 4Z6, Canada.

BACKGROUND: Dog-owners tend to be more physically active than non-owners; however, dogs have also been shown to inhibit physical activity for non-owners, under some circumstances.

METHODS: We conducted a scoping review to identify studies pertaining to the influence of dogs on physical activity for both dog-owners and non-owners, and adopted a critical realist orientation to draw inferences about the positive and negative impact of dogs via their affect on physical and social environments.

RESULTS: We identified 35 studies from disparate literatures for review. These studies confirm that dog and owner behaviors affect shared physical and social environments in ways that may influence physical activity patterns, not only among dog-owners but also among non-owners. The direction of influence appears to be most positive in neighborhoods exhibiting high levels of social cohesion, socioeconomic status, perceived safety, dominant culture, or all of these. In disadvantaged neighborhoods, the health of women as well as older adults may be disproportionately affected by dog and owner behavior.

CONCLUSIONS: While dogs have the potential to increase physical activity for both dog-owners and non-owners, the presence or absence of dogs will not have a standard effect across the physical and social environments of all neighborhoods. Dogs' contributions to shared environments in ways that support physical activity for all must be leveraged. Thus, specific contextual factors must be considered in relation to dogs when planning neighborhood-level interventions designed to support physical activity. We suggest this population health topic merits further investigation.

Does dog-ownership influence seasonal patterns of neighbourhood-based walking among adults? A longitudinal study.  [Link]

BMC Public Health. 2011 Mar 4;11:148.

Lail P, McCormack GR, Rock M.
Population Health Intervention Research Centre, Calgary Institute of Population and Public Health, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

BACKGROUND: In general dog-owners are more physically active than non-owners, however; it is not known whether dog-ownership can influence seasonal fluctuations in physical activity. This study examines whether dog-ownership influences summer and winter patterns of neighbourhood-based walking among adults living in Calgary, Canada.

METHODS: A cohort of adults, randomly sampled from the Calgary metropolitan area, completed postal surveys in winter and summer 2008. Both winter and summer versions of the survey included questions on dog-ownership, walking for recreation, and walking for transportation in residential neighbourhoods. Participation in neighbourhood-based walking was compared, among dog-owners and non-owners, and in summer and winter, using general linear modeling. Stability of participation in neighbourhood-based walking across summer and winter among dog-owners and non-owners was also assessed, using logistic regression.

RESULTS: A total of 428 participants participated in the study, of whom 115 indicated owning dogs at the time of both surveys. Dog-owners reported more walking for recreation in their neighbourhoods than did non-owners, both in summer and in winter. Dog-owners were also more likely than non-owners to report participation in walking for recreation in their neighbourhoods, in summer as well as in winter. Dog-owners and non-owners did not differ in the amount of walking that they reported for transportation, either in summer or in winter.

CONCLUSIONS: By acting as cues for physical activity, dogs may help their owners remain active across seasons. Policies and programs related to dog-ownership and dog-walking, such as dog-supportive housing and dog-supportive parks, may assist in enhancing population health by promoting physical activity.

Dog walking: its association with physical activity guideline adherence and its correlates.  [Link]

Prev Med. 2011 Jan;52(1):33-8. Epub 2010 Nov 1.

Hoerster KD, Mayer JA, Sallis JF, Pizzi N, Talley S, Pichon LC, Butler DA.
San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, 9245 Sky Park Court, Suite 220, San Diego, CA 92123, USA.

OBJECTIVE: We examined the prevalence and correlates of dog walking among dog owners, and whether dog walking is associated with meeting the American College of Sports Medicine/American Heart Association physical activity guidelines.

METHODS: In March 2008, we mailed a survey to dog-owning clients from two San Diego County veterinary clinics. Useable data were obtained from 984 respondents, and 75 of these completed retest surveys. We assessed associations between potential correlates and dog walking (i.e., yes/no dog walking for at least 10 min in past week).

RESULTS: Test-retest reliability of measures was generally high. Approximately one-third of the sample (31.5%) were not dog walkers. Proportions of dog walkers versus non-dog walkers meeting United States guidelines were 64.3% and 55.0%, respectively. Dog walking was independently associated with meeting guidelines in a multivariate model (odds ratio=1.59, p=0.004). Three variables were independently associated with dog walking in a multivariate model: dog encouragement of dog walking, dog-walking obligation, and dog-walking self-efficacy.

CONCLUSION: Dog walking was associated with meeting physical activity guidelines, making it a viable method for promoting physical activity. Dog-walking obligation and self-efficacy may be important mediators of dog walking and may need to be targeted if interventions are to be successful.

Dog-walking: motivation for adherence to a walking program.  [Link]

Clin Nurs Res. 2010 Nov;19(4):387-402. Epub 2010 Jul 22.

Johnson RA, Meadows RL.
Sinclair School of Nursing and Research Center on Human Animal Interaction, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.

Healthy People 2010 cited walking as a major health indicator; however, adherence is challenging, especially among those with multiple chronic illnesses. Studies suggest that walking one's own dog may motivate adherence. However, no research has studied whether walking a "loaner" dog may facilitate adherence. Using a pretest-posttest design, the authors studied adherence to and outcomes of a graduated walking program when 26 public housing residents walked certified therapy dogs with a handler. Participants walked 20 minutes, 5 days/week, for 26 or 50 weeks. In all, 13 participants in the 50-week group had a mean adherence rate of 72% and weight loss of 14.4 pounds (p = .013). Thirteen participants in the 26-week group had a mean adherence rate of 52% and weight loss of 5 pounds (nonsignificant). Participants' most commonly stated reason for adherence was that the dogs "need us to walk them." Commitment to a dog that is not one's own may effectively facilitate physical activity.

Aspects of health, physical/leisure activities, work and socio-demographics associated with pet ownership in Sweden.  [Link]

Scand J Public Health. Feb;38(1):53-63. Epub 2009 Aug 28.

Müllersdorf M, Granström F, Sahlqvist L, Tillgren P.
Mälardalen University, School of Health, Care and Social Welfare, Eskilstuna/Västerås, Sweden.

AIMS: The aim of the work presented here was to explore differences between pet owners and non-pet-owners concerning aspects of health, physical/leisure activities, work and socio-demographics.

METHODS: The study was based on nationally representative data from the Swedish population (n = 43,589). Associations between pet ownership and background variables were investigated using logistic regression analysis.

RESULTS: A total of 39,995 respondents were included in the analysis (non-pet-owners = 25,006; pet owners = 14,989). Pet ownership was associated with both positive and negative aspects of health, physical/leisure activities and socio-demographics. Pet owners had better general health but suffered more from mental health problems than non-pet-owners. Their leisure activities involved a greater interest in nature life and/or gardening than those of non-pet-owners. The logistic regression analysis showed that people who were self-employed, in the age range 35 to 49, of female sex, and suffering from pain in the head, neck and shoulders were more likely to own a pet than others. People physically active at a level sufficient to have a positive effect on their health more often owned a pet than people who were less active.

CONCLUSIONS: Pet owners differ from non-pet-owners in aspects of socio-demographics, health, physical/leisure activities and work situation. This study, based on a general regional population in Sweden, showed differences of both a positive and a negative kind between non-pet-owners and pet owners concerning aspects of health, physical and leisure activities, and work situation.

Associations between pet ownership and self-reported health status in people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.  [Link]

J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Apr;15(4):407-13.

Wells DL.
School of Psychology, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.

OBJECTIVE: This study explored the association between pet ownership and self-reported health in people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

METHODS: One hundred and ninety-three (193) people with medically diagnosed CFS completed a postal survey designed to collect information on illness severity, physical and psychologic health, and pet ownership practices.

RESULTS: Most of the participants were female (72.0%), over 45 years of age (57.1%) and married (41.1%) with no children (63.1%). Pets were owned by 58.3% of the sample, with dogs and cats being the most commonly kept types of companion animal. The general health of the participants was discovered to be poor, as assessed by scores on the Chalder Fatigue Questionnaire (CFQ), General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12), and Short-Form-36 (SF-36) health survey. Pet ownership was not significantly associated with scores on the CFQ, GHQ-12, or SF-36 scales, although pet owners considered their animals to offer them a range of health benefits, notably those associated with mental well-being.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, findings suggest no statistically significant association between pet ownership and self-reported health in people with CFS. Nonetheless, people suffering from this condition believe that their pets have the potential to enhance quality of life. Although animals should not be regarded as a panacea for people with long-term conditions such as CFS, they may, nonetheless, serve a valuable, and currently underutilized, role in promoting well-being, whether in their own right, or in conjunction with more traditional forms of therapy.

Walking the dog: is pet ownership associated with physical activity in California?  [Link]

J Phys Act Health. 2008 Mar;5(2):216-28.

Yabroff KR, Troiano RP, Berrigan D.
Applied Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.

BACKGROUND: Several studies have reported positive associations between pet ownership and a variety of health outcomes. In this study, we explored associations between pet ownership and physical activity in a large, ethnically diverse population-based sample in California.

METHOD: Data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) were used to assess the associations between pet ownership (ie, dog, dog and cat, cat, and non-pet owners) and transportation and leisure walking in a sample of 41,514 adults. Logistic regression was used to assess associations between pet ownership and type of walking, and linear regression was used to assess associations between pet ownership and total minutes walking per week.

RESULTS: Dog owners were slightly less likely to walk for transportation than were non-pet owners (OR = 0.91; 95% CI: 0.85 to 0.99) but more likely to walk for leisure than non-pet owners (OR = 1.6; 95% CI: 1.5 to 1.8) in multivariate analyses. Overall, dog owners walked 18.9 (95% CI: 11.4 to 26.4) minutes more per week than non-pet owners. Walking behaviors of cat owners were similar to non-pet owners.

CONCLUSION: Our findings support the moderate association between dog ownership and higher levels of physical activity.

In the company of wolves: the physical, social, and psychological benefits of dog ownership.  [Link]

J Aging Health. 2008 Jun;20(4):437-55.

Knight S, Edwards V.
Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, King Henry Building, King Henry I Street, Portsmouth, PO1 2DY, UK.

OBJECTIVE: The increase in aging populations has implications for the provision of health and social services. A preventative approach is taken to address this problem by examining a mechanism that can enhance physical health and reduce minor ailments.

METHODS: Participants in 10 focus groups discussed physical, psychological, and social benefits associated with human-dog interactions.

RESULTS: Interaction between humans and dogs is a mechanism that can enhance the physical and psychological health of elderly citizens and promote a social support network between dog owners. In turn, dependence and impact on health and social services are alleviated.

DISCUSSION: The social and community consequences of promoting dog ownership in the elderly are addressed, and it is concluded that the benefits of dog ownership should be promoted among the elderly and acknowledged by relevant agencies.

Dog ownership, health and physical activity: a critical review of the literature.  [Link]

Health Place. 2007 Mar;13(1):261-72. Epub 2006 Feb 28.

Cutt H, Giles-Corti B, Knuiman M, Burke V.
The RESIDE Project, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia.

This review examines the association between dog ownership and adult physical activity levels. While there is evidence to suggest that dog ownership produces considerable health benefit and provides an important form of social support that encourages dog owners to walk, there is limited evidence on the physical environmental and policy-related factors that affect dog owners walking with their dog. With the high level of dog ownership in many industrialized countries, further exploration of the relationship between dog ownership and physical activity levels may be important for preventing declining levels of physical activity and the associated detrimental health effects.

Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study.  [Link]

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 Mar;47(3):323-9.

Raina P, Waltner-Toews D, Bonnett B, Woodward C, Abernathy T.
Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

OBJECTIVE: To examine whether companion animals or attachment to a companion animal was associated with changes in physical and psychological health in older people and whether the relationships between physical and psychological health and human social networks were modified by the presence or absence of a companion animal.

DESIGN: A 1-year longitudinal study with standardized telephone interview data collected at baseline and repeated at 1-year

SETTING: Wellington County, Ontario, Canada

PARTICIPANTS: An age- and sex stratified random sample (baseline n = 1054; follow-up n = 995) of noninstitutionalized adults aged 65 and older (mean age = 73, SD +/- 6.3)

MEASUREMENTS: Social Network Activity was measured using a family and non-family social support scale, participation in an organized social group, involvement in the affairs of the social group, the practice of confiding in others, feelings of loneliness, and the perceived presence of support in a crisis situation. Chronic conditions were measured as the current number of selected health problems. Pet ownership was assessed by the report of owning a dog or a cat and the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale score. Physical health was assessed as the ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Psychological health was measured as a summed score comprising the level of satisfaction regarding one's health, family and friend relationships, job, finances, life in general, overall happiness, and perceived mental health. Sociodemographic variables assessed include subject age, sex, marital status, living arrangements, education, household income, and major life events.

RESULTS: Pet owners were younger, currently married or living with someone, and more physically active than non-pet owners. The ADL level of respondents who did not currently own pets deteriorated more on average (beta = -.270, P = .040) than that of respondents who currently owned pets after adjusting for other variables during the 1-year period. No statistically significant direct association was observed between pet ownership and change in psychological well-being (P > .100). However, pet ownership significantly modified the relationship between social support and the change in psychological well-being (P = .001) over a 1-year period.

CONCLUSIONS: The results demonstrate the benefits of pet ownership in maintaining or slightly enhancing ADL levels of older people. However, a more complex relationship was observed between pet ownership and an older person's well-being.
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