Everyone knows that dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend. And why shouldn’t they be? Dogs wake you up in the morning with a big slurpy kiss, they greet you with tons of love after a hard day at work, they’re all ears when you need someone to talk to, they make great workout partners, and they can even be taught to bring you a cold drink from the refrigerator after that workout is over. A survey of pet owners, conducted between 2015-2016, showed over 54 million homes in the U.S. alone have one or more dogs in them. And if all of this isn’t impressive enough, they can also help save your life. Here are eight ways your dog can help reduce your risk of cancer.
1. Having a healthy heart. According to the Cleveland Clinic you can decrease your chances of developing certain types of cancer by 38% by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle. This lifestyle includes a regular exercise routine. By walking your dog twice a day, every day, you are promoting a heart-healthy habit. If you want to do more than just your daily walks, look into workout routines that incorporate your dog into them, or look around for “doga” classes (yoga + your dog = doga). You can also consider introducing your dog to agility courses – which not only are good for your pup but keep you up and moving as well.
2. Reducing your daily stress. As you probably already know, the argument that stress increases your risk of cancer is pretty popular. While some researchers downplay the idea, others have found that there really is some truth to it. Stress affects your immune system. It dampens it down and weakens your body’s ability to fight back against illnesses. Long-term stress has been shown to weaken your body much more than short-term stress (i.e., ongoing financial struggles that seem unending, vs. a job interview that you know will end in a certain amount of time). Research now shows that oxytocin is released in both owner and dog when the two spend time with each other interacting and looking into each other’s eyes. This feel-good hormone can help ease your stress and tension and in turn help you reduce your risk of illness and cancer.
3. Lowering your cholesterol. While the connection between having a dog and having lower cholesterol levels is not entirely clear to researchers, the evidence supports the fact that it happens. One possible explanation is that dog owners may have a more active lifestyle, like we mentioned in no. 1. And lowering your cholesterol can lead to a healthier heart, which can help reduce your risk of cancer.
4. Increasing your social interactions. What is it about a dog that makes it easier to go up to the owner and start a conversation? From other dog owners at the dog park, to a stranger approaching you on the street, having a dog by your side is sure to increase your social interactions. Having a good social life has been linked to a reduced risk of dementia, heart disease, and has been associated with reducing the risk of cancer.
5. Increasing your immune system. As we mentioned in no. 2, a compromised or weakened immune system can increase your risk for illness and cancer. Studies have shown that growing up in a home with pets present – including dogs – leads to a stronger immune system. Another bonus is that it also makes you less likely to have allergies as an adult.
6. Managing your diabetes. If you have diabetes, you know how important staying on top of it is to your overall health. Watching what you eat, exercising regularly, and monitoring your blood sugar are all healthy habits for you to practice. Did you know that some dogs can help detect when your blood sugar is about to drop? Yep, they can even help you stay a step ahead of your hypoglycemia. Although having diabetes has been shown to increase your risk of cancer, properly caring for your condition can help you reduce your chance of negative side effects.
7. Getting your daily dose of vitamin D. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute have been looking into the connection between vitamin D and cancer. Studies have shown that vitamin D shows promising results in the retardation and reduction of cancer growth. One way of getting this wonderful vitamin is by exposure to sunlight. So here we are with yet another great cancer-fighting reason to pick up that leash and get outside. You could take your pup for a swim around the pool if you have one available. Either way will offer great exercise and sun exposure.
8. Giving us all an education. Dogs and people can get a lot of the same types of cancers – bone, breast, stomach, brain, etc. Being able to study these cancers in our canine counterparts can help doctors gain more information that may someday benefit both species. By being able to observe and research different things about the different types of cancer, maybe someday soon both man and his best friend won’t have to worry about the horrid “C-word” any longer.
As you can see, not only do dogs offer emotional support, they positively affect the lives of humans in myriad ways. They help physically by reducing stress, promoting exercise, and helping boost your immune system; they help emotionally by helping reduce your chance of dementia, reducing – and sometimes curing – depression; and they even help children with issues like autism and ADHD. These wonderful creatures can do all this, perform public services by working with the military and police forces, help find missing people, and then on top of all that, they can still help you fight against cancer. Not bad for a day’s work!