The hidden health benefits of dog ownership

Most dog owners believe everyone should have a dog. They help reduce stress and can keep you active on a regular schedule. 

Kathryn Milbury gives her dogs a little exercise at Mark Twain Dog Park in Royal Oak.

"They make me come outside, especially in the winter when I don't want to go outside and do anything," Milbury said. "I exercise so they can exercise."

"I'm not a person who likes jogging so much but with him I have to, so I love it," said Ming Giebel. 

Giebel walks her dog twice a day. 

"I can tell you a dog is very therapeutic animal because not only are they loyal to you, also because you have a good habit to you let your dog in, let you sleep on time," Giebel said. "That's very good." 

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. households own a dog and studies suggest people who have dogs tend to get sick less often than those who don't.

That may be because dogs are covered in bacteria and researchers say when your body is exposed to a more diverse mix of germs, you tend to get sick less.

A recent Canadian study found that kids whose mothers had dogs living in the house when they were pregnant were less likely to develop allergies or become overweight. 

"They relieve my stress. When I come home and I'm stressed out they know exactly how I am feeling," Milbury said. "You don't even have to say anything. They're there for you and it's such a relief."

Dogs can lower stress levels and lower likelihood of suffering from depression.

"It's probably the most holistic approach to treatment," said Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, the medical director at Polytrauma Rehab Center.

A University of Maryland study showed heart attack patients with dogs were eight times more likely to be alive a year later.  

Dogs can even sniff out danger before you can. 

"These dogs are women's' best friends because we think that they are going to give us the answers that will allow for early detection of ovarian cancer … and save lives," said Dr. Cindy Otto.

"I just think everyone should have a dog because I think they impact you in a positive way. They make you a better person," Milbury said. "They make you more empathetic. You have to care for something. I just think overall it's a great thing."

If you prefer cats, they too have some benefits -- including improved health. Blood pressure can drop as we pat our pets, in addition to reducing stress. 

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