Visiting dog: image via triblocal.comVisiting dog: image via

We all know that dogs are 'man's best friends,' but are they also 'man's best medicine?'

Health professionals have known for a long time that pets, particularly dogs, have a positive impact on humans who come in contact with them.  Trained visiting dogs and therapy dogs have been a comfort to institutionalized and hospitalized patients for a few decades.  But only recently are scientists learning exactly why dogs have the potential to help patients feel better and heal faster.

Indeed, researchers have found that dogs stimulate a hormone called oxytocin in humans and oxytocin suppresses the stress hormone cortisol.  Additionally, oxytocin lowers blood pressure levels. Maybe dogs are better than Prozac!

There's nothing like the feeling of a dog approaching you with his tail wagging. Petting a dog, playing with him, sharing eye contact... even grooming a dog creates positive, healthful physiological vibes.  But there are other healthful benefits, as well....

Exercise and social interaction. Many people would not get out and walk at all, if it were not for their dogs.  And, while they're walking, others they meet along their way greet and talk to them.  Who talks to you on the street, unless you're with a dog or another pet?

While the experiments have been conducted primarily with dogs and humans, those of us who have cats, horses, birds, and other animals as pets know that they provide us with most of the same helpful benefits as dogs.


sources: New Scientist, USA Today