Dogs, long known as man’s best friend, may be more than just loyal companions: they may also have a positive impact on your children’s health, according to new Israeli research.
The study shows that having a dog at home can help lower a child’s blood pressure and mitigate some health problems.
Nearly 230 children from first through third grades at two elementary schools in Shoham were examined in the study carried out by researchers from Gertner Institute for Epidemiology, the children’s ward at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 85 of which own dogs.
“Our results were very significant,” Dr. Michel Bailash, who led the study, told ISRAEL21c. “A normal blood pressure is around 120/80 millimeters of mercury. In our study, children without a dog had a blood pressure that was higher by nearly 4.5 mercury-millimeters. While not dangerous, this difference is very telling of the impact that dogs can have on children’s blood pressure.
“Children are much less stressed when they have a dog to play or spend time with,” continues Bailash, an epidemiologist at the veterinary services of the Israeli Agricultural Ministry. A dog may not be the most intellectually or socially stimulating companion, he adds, “but they also won’t steal your toys like a brother or sister, or yell at you for not doing your homework like your mother or father.”
Bailash also suggests that dogs help increase children’s physical activity, which in turn helps regulate their blood pressure. “Children are more likely to exert themselves physically when they are with dogs: whether it’s taking the dog to the park, or playing a game-instead of wasting away the day in front of a television, children are more physically active when there is a dog at home.”
The importance of Bailash’s research cannot be underestimated. High blood pressure is considered one of the leading causes of death and illness in the Western world, and can lead to serious heart disease and, in extreme cases, to fatal strokes. While few children between ages six and nine suffer from high blood pressure, past research shows that one third of the children who suffer from high blood pressure will continue to suffer from this problem as they mature, sometimes with serious ramifications. “My research offers an important and simple way to preemptively combat high blood pressure,” Bailash admits.
The study itself was broken into two stages. In the first stage, the children’s parents were asked (via a distributed questionnaire) whether the child has a dog at home, and if so, to describe the type of relationship the child has with the animal. (For example, questions included “how often does the child play with the dog” and “does the child help feed the dog?”) Parents were also asked to detail their child’s medical history and disclose any hereditary diseases in the family. Later, the children themselves underwent weight and height tests.
In the second stage, children’s blood pressure was measured under a variety of conditions. First, children’s blood pressure was tested in a control setting – “each child sat relaxing for five minutes and refrained from any kind of activity.” Afterwards, children were tested in an atmosphere that would induce stress or pressure-in one case, children were asked to remember and read aloud a number during a blood pressure test.
Under all circumstances, Bailash and his fellow researchers concluded: “Children who take care of a dog, who help feed it and play with it-have lower blood pressure than those children who do not have a dog.”
“There are thousands of dogs in Israel, and millions in the world,” says Bailash. “They are one of the most popular pets in the world, a man’s best friend, and any health benefits we can find will only help the medical community and dog owners all over the world.”