Pets: Getting off on a fresh paw in 2010

By AL SWANSON  |  Jan. 1, 2010 at 6:15 AM
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CHICAGO, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Even the most pampered pets, including canines that rang in 2010 curled up on laps in a "Snuggle for Dogs," can benefit from a few common sense resolutions.

The American Kennel Club issued its Top 10 resolutions for dogs and dog owners for New Year's, and while David Letterman has little to worry about, the list had links to more information about responsible pet ownership.

The top dog resolutions included:

10. "Owner on the floor, dog in bed."

9. "Stop begging and actually get a seat at the dinner table."

8. "Give up the dream of ever catching my tail."

7. "Bark like a big dog but still get cuddled on lap like a little dog."

6. "Get back at cat for litter box incident."

5. "Find every bone I ever buried."

4. "No more haircuts."

3. "Become alpha dog in my house."

2. "Invent goggles that allow me to see the electric fence."

1. "Finally pass that darn AKC Canine Good Citizen test."

Fun, but more seriously, experts advised old dogs and humans can learn new tricks.

"Eighty-one percent of dog owners buy gifts for their dogs," said the AKC's Lisa Peterson. "But what you should really be giving them is consistent exercise, training and stimulation." She advised people to get out on brisk walks with their dogs and to train them for competitive events that reward them for being well-behaved and physically fit.

A couple of years ago, dog walking became a main exercise when I had health problems. Like most middle-aged Americans the extra pounds had piled on and I wasn't getting my money's worth out of that health club membership.

Spirited dog walking helped me lose weight and more important helped put my health concerns in perspective. It's hard to worry when your dog is pulling at the leash with pure joy.

Nearly 25 percent of U.S. college students surveyed said pets helped them cope with loneliness or depression during difficult times, researchers at Ohio State's Newark Campus said.

An online survey of nearly 3,300 people conducted for the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Detroit's Henry Ford Health System and the Michigan Humane Society found 28.4 percent of smokers said knowing smoking was bad for their pets' health would motivate them quit.

British pet health expert Bob Martin studied 5,000 people -- 3,000 dog owners -- and found 86 percent enjoyed walking their pet daily, while only 16 percent said they enjoyed exercising in a gym.

He concluded the average dog owning Briton actually got a better workout walking a dog than someone with a health club membership.

Dog owners walked about seven hours a week, while non-dog owners exercised less than 90 minutes a week in a gym or on their own. Nearly 70 percent of respondents found going to the gym a chore, but only 22 percent of dog owners said walking the dog was work.

"Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity," Rebecca Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, said.

Johnson studied seniors paired with shelter dogs for 12 weeks, and a second group of seniors that walked with humans, and found pets promoted exercise, lower hypertension and improved psychological health, outcomes that if obtained by swallowing a pill would lead to claims of a wonder drug.

"The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent," she said. "Those who walked with humans had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities."

A study by researchers at Loyola University Health System in Chicago found patients given pet therapy while recovering from total joint-replacement surgery needed 50 percent less pain medication than adult patients who did not interact with pets.

"Evidence suggests that animal-assisted therapy can have a positive effect on a patient's psychosocial, emotional and physical well being," said Julia Havey, who raises puppies to become assistance dogs for Canine Companions for Independence.

University of Chicago researcher Froma Walsh said the human-animal bond is often undervalued and that the benefits of companion pets and animal-assisted interventions have been documented in hospitals, schools, prisons, elder care and community programs.

That even goes for the much-maligned pampered pooch in the dog sweater, booties or "blanket with sleeves." After all, the doggy Snuggle as seen on TV only costs $9.99 plus $7.95 for shipping and handling.

(Originally sent Thursday)

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