We’ve Gone to the Dogs in 2019

“Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they “force” you to into moderate physical activity for 10, 20, and even 30 minutes at a time.” Photo: Getty Images.

2019 – will it be the year you will adopt a dog? My year to adopt my first dog was 2014, and I have never regretted it. In fact, now I don’t know what I would do without Zoey, my beautiful, loveable Maltese mix. She was a rescue.

Before you think about adopting your new best friend, there are a few things you should think about.

Dogs require a food and water bowl, a leash and collar, a dog bed, toys and chews. Then there’s the wardrobe of cute clothing I’ve bought for Zoey. A purple sparkly sweater, a raincoat, a summer sundress, a Christmas outfit. Clothes are not required, but they sure are fun!

Dogs are not well-suited to people who travel a lot or work long hours. They should preferably not be left home alone all day. They need walks (at least two per day) and regular feeding times; not just when you come home from a 12-hour day of working.

A small dog costs approximately $580, while a medium-sized dog costs $695 and a large dog costs $875. These are costs if you BUY a dog. If you adopt a rescue, the costs are generally lower. I was still surprised at the initial cost of adopting a dog. But it was worth it to me, and I got to save a sweet dog from being put to death by a high kill shelter.

The life expectancy of dogs — usually 7 to 14 years — varies depending on the breed, with larger breeds tending to have shorter lives. Medical costs for dogs vary depending on size and existing health conditions but will usually be at least $500 for checkups, dental cleanings and vaccines per year. I also get my dog groomed every other week. Add another $100 a month, or learn how to bath your dog yourself. I haven’t mastered that skill yet.

One of the best things about owning a dog is the health benefits you gain. Check these out:

Improves Heart Health

Dogs don’t just fill your heart; they actually make it stronger. Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks. What’s more, dog owners who do have heart attacks have better survival rates following the events. My blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels couldn’t be better!

Keeps You Fit and Active

Health experts recommend that adults get about 2 hours and 30 minutes worth of moderate exercise per week. Dog owners are way more likely to hit that goal, especially if you walk your dog twice a day for one-half of an hour each time. That’s 7 hours of moderate exercise per week!

In turn, that activity helps us remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. A study in the journal Gerontologist found that older adults who walked dogs experienced “lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.”

Helps Lose Weight

Want to drop a few pounds? Grab Fido (in my case, Zoey) and get hoofing. Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they “force” you to into moderate physical activity for 10, 20, and even 30 minutes at a time.

In fact, in 2010, one small study discovered public housing residents who walked “loaner” dogs five times a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year. The best part: participants considered it a responsibility to the dog, rather than exercise.

Improves Social Life

As we age, it becomes harder to get out and meet people. Not so for us dog owners. Researchers have found that about 40 percent make friends more easily, possibly because the vast majority—4 in 5, according to one British study—speak with other dog owners during walks.

Dog owners, in particular, tend to be a little more extroverted, or outgoing. When you start to engage them about their companion animal, people tend to open up and really blossom. They want to share stories about their favorite friend. I’ve met many people who have become friends because of my Zoey. They know her name, not mine!

Reduces Stress

There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and wellbeing.  I am a changed person when it comes to stress. When I have a bad day, I go home and cuddle with Zoey. Stress disappears!

Adds Meaning and Purpose

As we grow older—especially after we retire—it can be difficult to find structure and meaning day in and day out. Dogs take care of that. “They ‘force’ people to continue to do things,” says Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. “So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, you still need to feed them and take them for walks.”

Dogs help prevent loneliness and isolation as well, which is key in staving off cognitive decline and disease. It helps us to not just focus on our needs. It gives us a reason to really get up in the morning. If I don’t get up, Zoey sits on my head and face (eew) until I do.

Reduces Doctor visits

If you’re over 65 and own a pet, odds are you seek medical help about 30 percent less often than people who don’t have a pet. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology established that animal-owning seniors on Medicare “reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets.”

Battles Disease and Injury

It’s believed that owning a dog can help treat and manage illnesses and debilitations:

1. Service dogs are known to benefit people with everything from traumatic brain injury to autism to rheumatoid arthritis, increasing mobility and promoting independence.

2. Alzheimer’s patients are soothed by dogs, whose companionship also seems to mitigate emotional flare-ups and aggression.

Watch for falls caused by your pet!

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), just over 86,000 falls per year are caused by pets  88 percent by dogs.

Falls can be cataclysmic health events for people who are older, frequently leading to serious injury (broken hips, etc.) and long hospital stays. If you’re looking to adopt, consider mobility issues, and make sure to take steps to reduce the dangers of falls.