Study finds that dog walkers get more exercise, even when weather isn’t pleasant

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A study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the study used data from the EPIC Norfolk cohort study, which is tracking the health and wellbeing of thousands of residents of the English county of Norfolk.

The researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge found that owning or walking a dog was one of the most effective ways to beat the usual decline in later-life activity, even combatting the effects of bad weather.

More than 3,000 older-adults participating in the study were asked if they owned a dog and if they walked one. They also wore an accelerometer, a small electronic device that constantly measured their physical activity level over a seven-day period.

Dog owners were sedentary for 30 minutes less per day, on average.

Because bad weather and short days are known to be barriers to staying active outdoors, the researchers linked this data to the weather conditions experienced, and sunrise and sunset times on each day of the study.

“We know that physical activity levels decline as we age, but we’re less sure about the most effective things we can do to help people maintain their activity as they get older,” said lead author of the paper, Dr Yu-Tzu Wu. “We found that dog walkers were much more physically active and spent less time sitting overall.”

Wu added that, when researchers looked at how the amount of physical activity participants undertook each day varied by weather conditions,  they were quite were surprised at the difference between those who walked dogs and the rest of the participants in the study. The team found that on shorter days and those that were colder and wetter, all participants tended to be less physically active and spent more time sitting. Yet dog walkers were much less impacted by these poor conditions.

“We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days,” project lead Prof Andy Jones said.

The researchers caution against recommending everyone owning a dog, as not everyone is able to look after a pet. But, they suggest these findings point to new directions for programmes to support activity.

“Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focusing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal,” Jones said. “Being driven by something other than our own needs might be a really potent motivator and we need to find ways of tapping into it when designing exercise interventions in the future.”

For more, check out this video:


‘Dog ownership supports the maintenance of physical activity during poor weather in older English adults: cross-sectional results from the EPIC Norfolk cohort’ is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


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New research shows therapy dogs can benefit some–but not all–children with autism

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One of the most common struggles for people living with autism spectrum disorder is socializing with others.

Previous research has shown that dogs can serve as social catalysts, and that children with autism may feel more comfortable speaking and socializing in the presence of a therapy dog.

However, in a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri found that while therapy dogs may benefit some children on the autism spectrum, therapy dogs should not be seen as a one-size-fits-all answer for children struggling with social communication.

Courtney Jorgenson, a doctoral student in the MU College of Arts and Science, collaborated with Casey Clay, former assistant professor of special education and researcher at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, to study the impact of a therapy dog on the verbal communication of children with autism as they were speaking with a therapist.

Five children, ages 3-8, with autism spectrum disorder participated.

They found that some of the children spoke with the therapist more often in the presence of Rhett, a black Labrador Retriever at the Thompson Center, or when they were able to earn time playing with Rhett. Rhett, the Thompson Center’s therapy dog, was trained and provided by Duo Dogs, Inc.

Others spoke with the therapist more when they were able to earn time playing with a favorite toy, such as an iPad.

The abstract for the research study notes that, “Practitioners should be aware that some clients may be better suited for interventions including therapy dogs than others.”

“The autism spectrum is incredibly broad, so what might be an effective intervention technique for one child might not necessarily be the best option for another,” Jorgenson said. “With so many different options available, this research can help parents make the best choices for their child.”

Jorgenson recommends that parents of children with autism speak with their doctor to ensure the benefits that therapy dogs provide will align with the reasons for wanting one and not assume that a therapy dog will benefit every child equally.

Research has also shown that dogs can help reduce stress. Therapy dogs go through extensive training to provide affection and comfort with a calming influence. As children on the autism spectrum tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to children who are developing typically, therapy dogs can potentially be used to help them feel more comfortable in social environments.

“Petting a dog can raise your oxytocin levels, the same hormone that gets released when you hug a loved one,” Jorgenson said. “There’s a long way to go in figuring out how dogs can best support children on the autism spectrum, but this research can help identify which kids might benefit the most.”

“Evaluating preference for and reinforcing efficacy of a therapy dog to increase verbal statements” was recently published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Funding was provided by the Organization for Autism Research.

Featured photo:

Rhett is a black Labrador Retriever therapy dog at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.



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Research shows watching cat videos might be good for you

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If you have found yourself watching more cat videos than usual while quarantined at home, don’t feel too guilty about it. In fact, there’s even some science supporting the idea that watching cat (or other animal videos) is good for you.

A June 2016 study, for example, by an Indiana University assistant professor Jessica Gall Myrick, surveyed almost 7,000 people about their viewing of cat videos and how it affects their moods. It was published in “Computers in Human Behavior.”

At the time, Myrick was quoted in a press release as saying: “Some people may think watching online cat videos isn’t a serious enough topic for academic research, but the fact is that it’s one of the most popular uses of the Internet today. If we want to better understand the effects the Internet may have on us as individuals and on society, then researchers can’t ignore Internet cats anymore.”

Even Time Magazine has weighed in on cat videoes, with it’s ranking of best viral cats of 2019.

And marketing firms are also paying attention. Tubular Insights, for example, posted in 2014 that there are over 2 million cat videos on the internet. The organization also noted:

But, anyway, back to the science…The Indiana University study explored whether viewing cat videos online has the same kind of positive impact as pet therapy. It also sought to find whether some viewers feel worse, instead of happier, after watching cat videos because they feel guilty for putting off tasks.

Some of the key findings were that those who watched cat-related videos:

  •  were more energetic and felt more positive
  • had fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness
  • often view Internet cats at work or during studying, but the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating.

“Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward,” Myrick said at the time.

Overall, according to the press release, the response to watching cat videos was largely positive, and the results also suggest that future work could explore how online cat videos might be used as a form of low-cost pet therapy.

A somewhat similar study, in 2012, “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus” was published in Plos One.

The study looked not at video but at the viewing cute images, both adult and baby animals, and the effect of this viewing on task performance.

According to the study, viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require being careful, “possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”

The abstract for the study notes that, “Cute features induce careful behavioral tendencies in the users, which is beneficial in specific situations, such as driving and office work.”

The science is interesting, but with over two million videos to choose from, where do you start? Or stop, for that matter?

Well, if any of the side effects shown in the following (hilarious) video happens to you, you might want to think about limiting your viewing:

If you’re not quite at that point of knocking paperclips off your boss’ desk or chasing a laser light, we say, continue watching cute cat (and other animal) videos whenever you need a mood booster and/or help concentrating on upcoming tasks. And, with that, we’ll leave you with our all-time favorite cat video — Roomba Cat! (Do you have a favorite? Share in the comments. We’d love to know!)

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Pets can reduce stress for both children with autism and their parents study shows

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While current events have increased stress for all families, parents of children with autism report higher levels of stress on average than parents of typically developing kids. Feeling overwhelmed and overburdened by various responsibilities, some parents turn to pets as a source of comfort and support.

Now, research from the University of Missouri has found that pets lead to strong bonds and reduced stress for both children with autism and their parents.

Gretchen Carlisle, a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, surveyed more than 700 families from the Interactive Autism Network on the benefits and burdens of having a dog or cat in the family.

She found that despite the responsibility of pet care, both children with autism and their parents reported strong bonds with their pets. Pet ownership was not related to parent stress, and parents with multiple pets reported more benefits.

“Given that the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder are so broad, it can be difficult to identify interventions that are widely beneficial,” Carlisle said. “Some of the core challenges that children with autism face include anxiety and difficulty communicating. As pets can help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety, we found that they are not only helpful in providing comfort and support to children with autism, but to their parents as well.”

For parents considering adding a pet into their family, Carlisle recommends including the child in the decision and making sure the pet’s activity level is a good match with the child’s.

“Some kids with autism have specific sensitivities, so a big, loud dog that is highly active might cause sensory overload for a particular child, while a quiet cat may be a better fit,” Carlisle said. “My goal is to provide parents with evidence-based information so they can make informed choices for their families.”

“Exploring Human-Companion Animal Interaction in Families of Children with Autism” was recently published in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Funding for the study was provided by Nestlé Purina.

Featured photo: Gretchen Carlisle, a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and Mira.

Source: College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri

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Organizations spread awareness about how pets can improve mental health

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Embrace Pet Insurance and The Good Dog Foundation partnered during May 2020 in support of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Founded in 1998, The Good Dog Foundation trains volunteers and professionals to provide therapy dog visits to help people heal and cope.

Giving back to the pet community is a core tenet of Embrace’s company philosophy and culture. For every policy sold, Embrace donates $2 to pet-related nonprofits doing incredible work to advocate for animals. For more information about the #PawsitiveEffects campaign, please visit

Below is an infographic provided by Embrace Pet Insurance showing some of the benefits of pets:

pet infographic from Embrace Pet Insurance and Habri

Data from Embrace Pet Insurance and HABRI spotlighting that pets are good for your mental health in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Source: Embrace Pet Insurance

For a related article, check out:

Human’s best friend may also be a heart’s best friend too

Pet therapy stories blog launched to honor dog helping humans

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A new blog, Pet Therapy Stories, has been created to raise awareness and honor therapy dogs serving their communities.
Pet therapy volunteers may submit stories about special encounters their therapy dogs have had working in their community. The blog also honors therapy dogs that have passed on its Therapy Angels page. There is no charge to be featured.

According to National Geographic, in 2018 there were more than 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States. These dogs, along with their handlers, volunteer their time to share love and comfort with people in their communities.

Therapy dogs make a difference in the lives of others, whether they’re de-stressing college students, being attentive listeners for young readers at the library, comforting hospital patients, bringing a smile to the faces of nursing home residents, or brightening the day of weary travelers at the airport.

student petting therapy dog on campus

Students getting the opportunity to pet a therapy dog at East Carolina University.

And, while therapy dogs always bring smiles, sometimes they inspire miracles, according to Debbie LaChusa, a pet therapy volunteer and creator of the blog. LaChusa has been involved in volunteer pet therapy since 2014, and is certified with her dogs, Hope and Faith, through Love on a Leash and Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

LaChusa says witnessing these small miracles inspired her to create the blog. One of the first stories shared is about an encounter her dog Hope had with a nursing home patient.

“We entered the room and it was apparent the patient was unable to speak when he did not respond when asked if he would like to visit with a therapy dog,” LaChusa says. “That didn’t stop my dog Hope. She walked up to his bedside, pushed her head under his hand, and stood there while he stroked her fur. The patient immediately perked up, smiled, and by the time we left he was trying to communicate with us.”

In addition to sharing therapy dog stories, the blog also honors therapy dogs who have passed. LaChusa hopes to collect enough stories to someday publish a book to honor these giving animals and raise awareness of pet therapy.

To learn more, read inspiring stories, or submit a story, visit


Related article:

Podcast looks at stories of healing through animal assisted interventions and therapy

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Wow, your dog might help you find romance! Study explores how pets help strengthen human relationships

Reading Time: 2 minutes, a network of five-star pet sitters ad dog walkers, recently released its Anatomy of Dog Love report.

The report dove into the science behind why dogs and humans love each other and presents new data on how pets impact our romantic relationships. The Anatomy of Dog Love report is based on a survey of 1,500 U.S dog owners conducted by Rover in January 2020 via Pollfish.

According to the report:

  • Nearly half of all dog owners agree that they would only be in a relationship with a dog person.
  • One in five pet parents say they have stayed in a relationship longer because of their partner’s dog.
  • 72% of pet parents are likely to click on someone’s dating profile if there is a dog in the picture.
  • Most (61%) dog people believe that being a pet parent impacts the health of their romantic relationship.
  • Half of pet parents in relationships agree that they spend more time as a couple now that they have a dog.
  • 71% of pet parents in relationships say they are more attracted to their partner after seeing how they care for their dog.

The report also found that the vast majority (95%) of pet parents believe their dogs love them.

According to Phil Tedeschi, clinical professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, Institute for Human-Animal Connection and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, humans and dogs both have neuro-biological needs for interpersonal connections, within their own species and with other animals. Through thousands of years of interaction, humans and dogs have co-evolved strategies for connection. This has cemented our bond and, as in any loving relationship, we seek to understand each other. For dogs, that means observing our physical presence and emotional changes, to be able to connect with and understand humans.

“The more I study and learn about dogs the more I have realized their capacity for deep and loving attachment and the importance of us, as a people, reciprocating that responsiveness and love in return,” says Tedeschi. “Our dogs can teach us how to have healthy relationships, deeper connections, be more attentive to one another and become trustworthy companions. They can teach us to love.”

More Anatomy of Dog Love Survey Findings:

Pet Parenting

  • 86% of dog people in a relationship agree that having a dog makes them feel more like a family.
  • Two in three dog owners say they have more confidence in their parenting skills since owning a dog; most pet parents (67%) are also more confident in their partner’s parenting skills after owning a dog.

Rover connects dog and cat owners with pet care whenever they need it. Millions of services have been booked on Rover, including pet sitting, dog walking, in-home boarding, drop-in visits, doggy day care, and grooming in select markets.

To learn more about Rover, please visit


Photo credit:

Pet therapy for stressed students

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So, on East Carolina University campus, I saw this sign announcing the opportunity to pet a therapy animal:

Do you want to pet a therapy animal sign


Well, of course I did! I had a stressful day ahead, as did most of the students, faculty and staff around me. That’s why this unexpected opportunity to pet a dog was so delightful!

student petting therapy dog on campus

And even though the therapy dog looked a little tired or maybe really relaxed itself from all the petting by the time I came across him, it was still fun to pet him. And I wasn’t alone. A student who had been petting him came running back, saying, “I just don’t want to leave.”  therapy dog on campusThis is the first week of ECU’s Spring semester, so it definitely makes sense to bring in some moral support in the form of a furry friend. In the past ECU has also had therapy dogs that can be petted in the library during high stress times, such as final exams, as can be seen in this report from WITN TV news.



Podcast looks at stories of healing through animal assisted interventions and therapy

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A new weekly podcast, The Animal Effect, shines light on the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.

Hosted by licensed mental health professional Prairie Conlon, the podcast, which airs on Mental Health News Radio and all podcast streaming platforms, takes a holistic approach to mental health treatment through the power of healing with animal therapy.

“More people are seeking out and using holistic and natural ways to improve wellbeing, and animal assisted interventions and therapy are emerging as an incredibly effective resource,”  Conlon stated.

The Animal Effect has welcomed guests from diverse backgrounds, including a domestic violence survivor who found solace in her pet horse, as well as representatives from a rescue shelter that places animals in loving homes.

Conlon, who received a master’s degree in mental health counseling, and a postgraduate degree in military behavioral health counseling, is the founder, developer and lead researcher of Emotional Support Animal Assisted Therapy, a set of techniques used to decrease anxiety, panic attacks, depressive symptoms, and sleep difficulties with the use of an Emotional Support Animal. She is certified as an equine-assisted psychotherapist and the clinical director of CertaPet.

In addition to these distinguished credits, Conlon has been featured on Lifetime TV’s “Military Makeover” and The Guardian documentary “Creature Comforts.”





Pets helping teens cope with anxiety and pressures of school is focus of new short film

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“A Pet Sees You” is a new short film that is described as “highlighting the mental health benefits of pet ownership for the Generation Z population.”

It is actually only about a minute in length, but seems to definitely capture that sense of a dog (or other pet) always being there to provide emotional support, no matter how, well…crappy the rest of life can get.

“A Pet Sees You” shows the challenges of a high-school aged girl who faces the constant pressures of school, having an online presence, anxiety, heavy use of technology, mass shootings, and the desire to change the world.

The actress in the film stars alongside an affectionate and loyal Weimaraner, who also happens to be her best friend behind the scenes, likely making their on-screen connection even more relatable.

You can view it on youtube or below:

A Pet Sees You
A Pet Sees You

“While previous generations have come to understand the positive impact pets can have on their health and well-being, members of Gen Z are tackling entirely new pressures and mental health issues unique to their generation,” said Steve King, CEO of American Pet Products Association. “We’re committed to doing our part to help promote alternative ways pets can help today’s younger generations cope with their struggles, while joining the meaningful, and extremely timely, mental health conversation.”

The American Pet Products Association’s non-profit campaign Pets Add Life (PAL), partnered with Gen Z director, Richelle Chen, to connect with young adults on a relatable and emotional level.

“With the growing support of research showing that pet ownership can positively affect the Gen Z population, the pet care community has a responsibility to be at the forefront of these important discussions,” said King.

According to a recent Wakefield survey of 1,000 Gen Z Americans ages 11-17, nearly 80 percent have a pet in their household. 60 percent have a dog, 36 percent have a cat, 14 percent own fish and 23 percent have a small animal, reptile, bird or horse.

Research from the 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey also shows that 66% of Gen Z members identified stress relief and 61% identified reduced levels of anxiety and depression as health benefits of pet ownership, more than any other generation.

In conjunction with “A Pet Sees You,” PAL has provided resources on its website, including links to mental health lifelines and quizzes to help respondents find their perfect pet.

For more information, visit

About Pets Add Life
Founded by the American Pet Products Association, Pets Add Life (PAL) is a nonprofit campaign dedicated to sharing information about how pet ownership benefits animals and people alike. PAL’s mission is to increase awareness of the bonds and other rewards associated with pets of all types. Primarily through social media with videos, contests and engaging content, PAL spreads the joys of pets and aims to deliver key messages about the human-animal bond, responsible pet ownership, pet acquisition and health benefits of pets.


Featured article image: Screenshot from short film, “A Pet Sees You.”