This Is Why People Who Have Dogs Are Healthier, According To Science

by JR Thorpe

Hemming and hawing about getting a dog? If you care about your health, it shouldn't even be a question. New science suggests that having a dog around has some pretty unique health benefits, from helping you sleep to protecting you from asthma, allergies, and possibly even eczema.

Around 3.3 million dogs enter shelters in the U.S. to await new loving forever homes every year, according to the ASPCA, and they're one of the most popular pets in America: it's estimated that there are currently 89.7 million pet dogs across the country, from tiny Pomeranians to massive Great Danes. Clearly, humans are getting a lot out of their time with their furry friends — and science is adding to our understanding of why.

The history of human-canine interactions is one of the most fascinating in interspecies history, because the evolution of dogs from wolves into animals who expressly interact and are codependent with humans is a hugely successful domestication story. (Cats, by contrast, followed an entirely different domestication pattern and are identified by scientists as only "semi-domesticated," confirming what every cat owner has always known.) The closeness of the human-dog relationship means that they get a lot of attention, and we're increasingly discovering that keeping a pooch around has benefits beyond the simplicity of companionship and an animal to bring you your slippers (or chew on them adorably).

They Help Young People Develop Immunities To Allergens

If you're thinking of having kids, but don't know whether or not they'd be compatible with your beloved Fido, worry not. New studies presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology this month reveal that up until the age of 10, exposure to dogs in the household has a link to protection against eczema and asthma. We've known for a while that being "desensitized" to animals at a young age may help people avoid developing allergies to them in adulthood (hence why my brother, who didn't go near cats until he was about 20, now gets the sniffles whenever he encounters a feline). But these wider impacts are a new element to the aid that dogs provide to human immune function.

Unfortunately, these benefits seem to be confined to children; if you've got an allergy, asthma, or eczema, it's not clear that getting a dog as an adult will help your plight. Even in kids who were already allergic to dogs, though, the study found that there was a bit of protective effect against asthma simply from having dogs around in a limited capacity — but it had to be carefully regulated.

They Can Help You Sleep

A small study just published by the Mayo Clinic reveals that if you let your dog sleep in your bedroom, but not on your bed, you may actually get better quality sleep. (Yes, they did in fact test the on-the-bed part.) For a six-month period, they examined the sleep of 40 adults, many of them women, all of whom owned a dog and didn't have any sleep issues. And they found that human sleep efficiency seems to maintain a constant level if a dog is sleeping in the bedroom, but not if the dog is on the bed itself. In other words, people sleep better if their dog is snoring gently in the same room. Human-dog co-sleeping may not be a particularly old tradition (the first domesticated dogs likely stood guard at night or slept in barns or outdoors), but sharing warmth and companionship as part of a family unit remains an idealized view of canine friendship: Remember that golden retriever who saved his owner from freezing to death in a Michigan winter in early 2017 by lying on him all night in the snow? Yeah, he was literally named the "best dog in the world." So.

Dr. Lois Krahn, one of the leads of the study, hypothesized in a press release that our shifts in ideas about dogs now prioritize comfort and closeness. "The relationship between people and their pets has changed over time," she said, "which is likely why many people in fact do sleep with their pets in the bedroom. Today, many pet owners are away from their pets for much of the day, so they want to maximize their time with them when they are home. Having them in the bedroom at night is an easy way to do that." So you can feel far less guilty about having your collection of Dalmatians snoozing at your bedroom door. You're still not allowed to let them on your pillow, though.

If you have any doubts about bringing a furry friend into your life, the reported health benefits are only one of the many, many, many, many reasons to get a dog. Other science has found that dogs have different facial expressions that they reserve just for humans, showing how inexorable the bond between us and man's best friend truly is. If you have the ability to bring one into your family, well, hopefully this might be all the convincing you need to do so.