Real Possibilities

January 13-19, 2020

By Nan Selz


Pets make a difference: ‘Dognition’


If you’re feeling down, there’s an almost certain cure that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals and doesn’t cost anything.  Find a dog, yours or someone else’s, and pet it.  You’ll feel calmer and more relaxed, and there’s actually scientific evidence to back up this result.  Of course, this only works if you like dogs and if the dog is friendly.  Don’t try it with a strange dog without checking with the owner first.  


There have been dozens of studies on the effects of human-animal interaction, and a review of these studies was published in Frontiers in Psychology.  Common to all this research was the conclusion that the act of petting a dog increases a brain hormone known to lower levels of stress hormones. This explains why petting a dog is calming and relaxing.  “We concluded that the activation of the oxytocin system, mainly via touch, is the key factor in explaining many of the effects of human-animal interaction,” according to Andrea M. Beetz, a psychologist with the University of Rostock in Germany and the University of Vienna in Austria.  Dr. Beetz found one study in which elderly residents of a nursing home with a resident dog reported less tension and confusion than residents of a home without a dog.


Dog ownership seems to lead to a healthier lifestyle.  Dog owners who walk their dogs reap the benefit of increased physical activity and its resultant health benefit – fewer doctor visits.  Surveys by German and Austrian researchers indicated pet owners make 15% fewer yearly visits to the doctor than nonowners.  And owning a pet seems to decrease the need for antidepressants by normalizing brain chemistry.  A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that some pet owners were even motivated to stop smoking once they learned that second-hand smoke has a negative effect on pets.


Regarding heart health, a series of studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that pet owners show decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowering the risk of a heart attack in the future.  Other research has shown that heart disease patients who owned pets had better one-year survival rates than similar patients who did not own pets.


A number of studies have looked at the effect of pet ownership and pet therapy in relation to cognitive function.  These studies have been designated by researchers as “dognition.”  They discovered that dog owners over the age of 65 performed significantly better on cognitive activities than those who owned cats or did not own a pet.  The assumption has been that dogs keep their owners physically and mentally active by demanding to be walked, fed, played with, let in and out, and so forth.


For more information staying healthy as you age, go to  



  • Nan Selz
    Nan Selz