Having a guard dog for the house is always a good idea. But how about having a guard dog for health? For years, researchers have been studying the effects of pets on health, and — especially with canine companions — the results are definitely something to woof about.

Paw-sitivity — The Takeaway

Dog In Shades Photo by Perry Santanachote From to , studies show that these four-legged friends can affect health in a many ways. A number of studies have found that dog owners are more likely to lead active lives than those without pets . Raina, P., Waltner-Toews, D., Bonnett, B., et al. Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 1999 Mar;47(3):323-9.. More than simply serving as partners in , dogs can have some more concrete benefits, like helping reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure . Edney, A.T. The Veterinary Record, 1992 Apr 4;130(14):285-7.. And some canines can even predict the future (kind of). Research suggests that some dogs have been able to detect serious illnesses — including epilepsy and even cancer — in their owners before any symptoms appear . Wells, D.L. School of Psychology, Queen's Univesrity, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2012 Mar-Apr;18(2):12-7. . Edney, A.T. The Veterinary Record 1992 Apr 4;130(14):285-7..

But beyond the physical health benefits, dogs can help with happiness, too. (Did we really have to say that?) Research suggests dog owners are less stressed out than their puppy-less counterparts . Edney, A.T. The Veterinary Record 1992 Apr 4;130(14):285-7.. Other studies have found pet owners to have higher self-esteem and overall better well-being, and that pets can actually provide social support (and even moreso when paired with support by human friends) . McConnel, A.R., Brown, C.M., Shoda, T.M. et al. Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Dec;101(6):1239-52.. And they're often used in with patients suffering from loneliness and depression . Banks, M.R., Banks, W.A. Nursing Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, St. Louis, Missouri. The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 2002 Jul;57(7):M428-32.. This one-on-one time with a furry friend, guided by a medical professional, can help develop empathy and camaraderie between owner and pet . Wisdom, J.P., Saedi, G.A., Green, C.A. Department of Mental Health Services and Policy Research, New York State Psychiatric Institute. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 2009 Jul;79(3):430-6.. But don't run out to the pet store just yet — while some research has suggested dogs can boost happiness, one study did find that spending time around a happy person may be just as effective . Kaiser, L., Spence, L.J., McGavin, L., et al. College of Nursing, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 2002 Oct;24(6):671-83..

The Tip

Even though pets have been shown to lead to healthier lives, just owning one doesn’t guarantee a happy and healthy life. Pets are great motivators, but not anything like .

Originally posted June 2011. Updated May 2012.