The XX Factor

Dogs: Bad for Your Furniture, Good for Your Heart

Here is a dog. Don’t you feel better already?

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

The American Heart Association released a statement on Thursday announcing that owning a pet, especially a dog, may help lower your risk of heart disease. Yes, a stinky, slobbering, germy dog. While researchers aren’t certain why, the prevailing theory is that dog ownership leads to getting more exercise and lower stress levels. Dogs need walking, of course, and plenty of research shows that hanging out with your pet can make you calmer. 

This is great news that can now be used as a weapon against dog-haters. Or, it’s great news until you ponder the underlying implication of the news, which is that we Americans are drastically under-exercised and over-stressed. As an owner of cats, which mostly lay around all day doing nothing, much of my adult experience with dogs has been watching my neighbors walk them. Frankly, it’s an activity that I hesitate to categorize as “exercise,” since it primarily seems to involve walking a few steps, letting Fifi sniff something, walking a few more steps, letting Fifi poop, and then reaching your peak activity by bending over and scooping the poop up. Apparently we as a nation of desk-bound overworkers get significantly more exercise simply adding poop-scooping walks around the block to our repertoire. I suppose I’ll have to take up cat juggling to compete. 

Luckily for the cat people out there, the stress effects of hanging out with your pet are not species-dependent. Unluckily for us, that still means we’re so stressed out that we need to rush home and clutch our pets for dear life so that our hearts don’t give up trying to handle all the stress hormones we’re throwing at them. This is why it’s so wrong to be a snob who sneers at the proliferation of videos that feature things like a cat on a Roomba in a shark suit hanging out with his duck friend and his dog buddy. Such videos are keeping people stable until they can get home to hang out with their own pets. In fact, I wrote this post specifically so I could look at some dog pictures instead of the usual depressing stuff I cover on a daily basis. YouTube may be single-handedly reducing the public’s dependence on hypertension medications, which is an observation I’m sure they’ll be filing away when they ask for a government bailout in 2072.