Dogs have been referred to as man’s best friend for what seems like forever. It’s been proven that dogs help soothe mental distress and can be excellent aids for owners living with physical or psychological disabilities. And according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, exposure to pets like dogs may lessen the risk of neurodegenerative disease, too.

Before Looking Into the Study

It’s important to note first that the authors of this study admit more research is needed on whether truly dogs may lessen the risk of neurodegenerative disease. This research is still in its early stages and no concrete evidence has been found that early exposure to pets like dogs can help prevent a neurodegenerative disease like schizophrenia later on in life.

Still, the researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine did cite earlier research that suggests early life exposure to pets may be among some of the environmental factors that can actually alter the immune system in various ways. Some of those most notable immune system changes include the development of allergic responses, contact with animal bacteria or viruses, and mutations in the home microbiome. In addition and perhaps most importantly, pet-related stress reduction is one of those changes that may affect human brain chemistry.

“Serious psychiatric disorders have been associated with alterations in the immune system linked to environmental exposures in early life, and since household pets are often among the first things with which children have close contact, it was logical for us to explore the possibilities of connection between the two,” says lead study author and chair of pediatric neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center Robert Yolken.

Considering that there are roughly 94 million pet cats and 90 million pet dogs in the United States, it’s safe to say that even though further research is needed, the effects of pets on human mental health is a prevalent topic for study.

The Study on If Cats or Dogs May Lessen the Risk of Neurodegenerative Disease

In this study, Yolken and his team of researchers studied the relationship between exposure to family household pets, specifically cats and dogs, during a subject’s first 12 years of life and a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder later on in that same subject’s life. Researchers worked with 1,371 women and men between ages 18 and 65, including 396 subjects with schizophrenia and 381 with bipolar disorder.

The most significant results were revealed in the relationship between early-life exposure to dogs and a diagnosis of Schizophrenia later on in life. Researchers discovered that there was a statistically significant decrease in the likelihood of a subject developing this particular neurodegenerative disorder if they were exposed to a dog early on in life. As for Bipolar Disorder, no significant link was discovered between exposure to dogs and later diagnosis. In addition, no correlation was found between early exposure to cats and the development of either disorder.

While more research is needed to isolate whether dogs may lessen the risk of neurodegenerative disease, it is important to note that pets can have a positive effect on mental health for both children and adults. And if you needed some science to prove that you should, in fact, get a puppy, this particular study just may give you the footing you need.

At Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center we are happy to provide a wide range of veterinary specialty and emergency services. It is important to have a “primary care” veterinarian to keep your new family member healthy and happy with routine vaccinations and health checks. But if you find yourself in the midst of a veterinary emergency, our team of experienced veterinarians is here to help. When it comes to visiting animal hospitals, we understand that the experience can be full of stress and worry, so we aim to make things as simple as possible. For more information, get in touch with one of our experts today.