Science Explains Why Dog Really Is Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend

Clear the Shelters

It’s no secret that the bond between a human and their pet can be a powerful one. Scientists say dogs have likely been “man’s best friend” for thousands of years. But beyond an endless supply of slobbery kisses and games of fetch, what about spending time with our dogs makes us so happy and calm? 

“One of the main mental health benefits of having a pet is companionship,” Lois Krahn, Professor of Psychiatry at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, told NBCLX.

Krahn said something as simple as petting your dog releases a chemical in your brain that makes you feel safe.

“When a human pets an animal, a dog or a cat, the brain releases Oxytocin, which is a chemical that is kind of a nesting, care taking chemical that can enhance our sense of well-being,” Krahn explained. “There’s been research shown that people who spend time caring for their companion animals can be more relaxed. And that is evidenced because they may have better control of blood pressure with fewer blood pressure spikes.”

Krahn, who is a specialist in sleep medicine, also said pet owners may have slower heart rate and a degree of muscle relaxation that non-pet owners may not.

At the end of a long day, some pets can even help their humans sleep better.

“Sleep issues could potentially improve due to the presence of a companion animal,” said Dr. Krahn, “This is based on several assumptions; that the animal is mature and happy, the animal is a reasonable size, not overly large, but having a companion animal nearby at night can help combat the feeling of being alone or being lonely because the animals there and the person is not truly alone,” Dr. Krahn said.

Even though our dogs can’t track time, they can also help create healthy routines in their humans’ lives.

“They know when it’s time to eat, they know when it’s time to go out, and they can be fairly structured and then help create more structure for their owner. People who are dog owners who take their dogs for walks tend to be in better physical shape.”

In a time of social distancing, and with more and more of our personal and professional interactions moving online, having a furry friend could go a long way.

I believe that a pandemic is a major challenge to mental health because there are so many changes. We are social beings, so keeping distance from other people for the sake of preventing illness is very hard. Some people who live alone have been by themselves for weeks and weeks. At this point, also there’s so much uncertainty about jobs, the economy, and financial security. That’s a huge source of worry for many of us.”

Pets are a big responsibility, and they certainly can’t solve all of your problems. Keeping a healthy mind and body takes work. But going through it with a pet who loves you unconditionally can really help along the way. 

Correction: Due to an editing error the chemical Oxytocin was originally misidentified. We apologize for this error.

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  • Towels and blankets - Shelters are often cold and animals like to have a blanket to curl up on. Towels are a big help to dry animals off after being bathed or if they come in wet. Towels can also be used to line the bottoms of cages. The towels or blankets don't have to be brand new or in perfect condition. The animals won't mind, as long as they're usable.
  • Canned and Dry Food for Cats and Dogs-Healthy - Healthy pet options for nourishment
  • Kitty litter and cat boxes - Cats go to the bathroom- a lot. Shelters are constantly using bag after bag of litter. Their supply runs out fast.
  • Puppy or kitten formula and nursing bottles - Sometimes there are situations where a young puppy or kitten who is not weaned gets separated from their mother. In these situations they need puppy or kitten formula to survive.
  • Old newspaper - When you're done with your newspapers you usually just throw them away or recycle them, right? You could help animals at no cost to you if you just save up your old newspapers. Newspapers are used in the bottoms of cages. They get soiled quickly, so they're in constant demand.
  • Collars, harnesses, and leashes - Dogs who are taken out on walks need a leash and collar or harness. The shelter loses some because adopted dogs often go home with their leash or harness.
  • Grooming supplies - Grooming supplies can include shampoo, brushes, combs, haircutting scissors, etc. Dogs and cats often come in dirty or end up getting dirty. Grooming supplies can keep them fresh, clean, and adoptable.
  • Toys - You would get bored if you had to lay in a crate alone all day, wouldn't you? Animals in shelters get bored, too. It keeps the animals from being so lonely and bored and allows them to get exercise. You could go out and buy new toys, or you could donate toys your pets or children may have not gotten much use out of. It's as simple as that.
  • Crates and carriers - Animals need to be transported somehow, and the cost of multiple crates and carriers can add up quickly. You can donate ones you stopped using that are still in good condition or you could go buy one for a decent price. This helps the shelter tremendously.
  • Paper towels and cleaning supplies - There are a lot of situations that get messy, so paper towels are a big help.
  • Hand wash and hand sanitizer - People who work at shelters need to keep their hands clean for their and the animals' health.
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach - Towels and blankets get soiled often so the washing machines are being used a lot
  • Dog and cat beds - this can offer the animals a soft place to lay instead of a kennel or cage floor.
  • Heating pads - Many animals come in cold or are young and need warmth. Heating pads can replace a mother's warmth.
  • Copy paper and pens, pencils, post-it notes and staples - You can't forget about all the paperwork that has to be done. Donating these items makes it so the shelter doesn't have to buy them on their own.
  • Garbage bags, mops, brooms, and sponges - The shelter uses these every day and clean up supplies can get expensive.
  • Food bowls - As new animals come in, the shelter needs new places to put food. Having an adequate supply could mean life or death for an animal in a shelter.
  • Rubber and latex gloves - A lot of messy stuff happens and gloves are necessary to lessen the spread of germs.
  • Plastic shopping bags - Plastic bags can be used to clean up dog mess and to store things in.

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