How Dogs Save Lives

There are numerous ways that dogs improve the health of humans, from getting us to exercise more, to providing much needed companionship and entertainment. But dogs do so much more for us. They can actually save our lives.

Recognizing A Crisis

In a medical case report from Austria, two instances of dogs recognizing that their owner was in crisis were described. 

The first account relates to a 43-year-old woman who had a severe headache, but did not have it investigated. Three weeks later, her husband, returning home late, went to sleep in a spare room. At 3.00am, he was woken up by the family dog who had jumped on him, then ran between the wife’s bedroom and the husband. He found his wife unconscious and shivering. She was diagnosed and successfully treated for a brain hemorrhage. The interesting thing is, the dog was only 5 months old at the time. 

The other story involves a 50-year-old man, who went to lie down for a rest. Before long, the family dog began whimpering and jumping on the man. The dog ran to the kitchen where the wife was, and back to the bedroom, till she followed. She found her husband unconscious, having had a heart attack. The emergency services were called, and the man was resuscitated successfully. This dog was a 5-year-old bull-terrier.

Some other cases of untrained dogs helping their loved humans include:

     Detecting seizures

     Protecting against muggers

     Warning about snakes close-by

     Pulling owner to safety, from water, fire or other hazard

     Defend against attacks

     Challenge intruders

     Helping people with street safety

Do you remember a high profile case in Indianapolis, where a dog saved a deaf boy in a house fire?

Ways Dogs Help Us

How Dogs save Lives


When you have a dog, you get more exercise.

Researchers at Michigan State University, found that half of people with dogs get around 150 hours of exercise every week. This is the recommended amount, in order to control and prevent chronic diseases.

Detecting Illness

A dog’s superior sense of smell has resulted in many being trained to sniff out cancer. A professional, disease detecting dog can accurately smell cancer on someone’s breath or urine, potentially saving their life with an earlier diagnosis.

Cancer cells give off a distinctive odor. Even humans can smell cancer in it’s late-stages, but dogs can pick it up much quicker. This is due to the amazing noses that they have. Researchers estimate that a dog’s sense of smell is between 10,000 and 100,000 times superior to ours.

The dogs spend several months in intensive training, being exposed to hundreds of different smells until they can tell whether the sample is healthy or cancerous.

How Dogs Save Lives

Heart & Mind

Having a dog has benefits for cardiovascular and mental health, too. They effectively lower blood cortisol levels, and activate the oxytocin system. These changes result in a lower heart rate and blood pressure. On top of this, your immune system is boosted.

A 2016 survey done by the Human Bond Research Institute reports that 71% of pet owners say owning a pet has improved their mental health.

People in long-term care, such as a care home or hospital can have visits with therapy dogs. They pet and play with the dog. Many institutions have this opportunity for their residents, as the evidence for increasing their clients’ well-being is overwhelming.

Loneliness and depression are also alleviated, and people experience less anxiety and stress. More than 40 million adult Americans suffer from depression. There are many therapies and treatments available, and spending time with a pet is known to be effective. The good thing is, studies also show that having a dog is great for helping kids with anxiety.

Service dogs 

Service Dogs specialize in being with people who have various challenges. These could include traumatic stress disorders, epilepsy and physical issues such as sight, mobility and hearing loss. The dog is generally owned by the client. There are half a million service dogs in the United States, all of whom save lives every day.

Our four-legged friends help us in many ways. Even own family pets provide us with companionship and love. They are not highly trained to complete any tasks, other than to just be themselves. And they are absolutely expert at the job. That’s why they’re known as ‘man’s best friend’!

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By Laura Horton

Laura Horton, MSc. is founder of, a website which helps you to be your dog’s best friend. She is also a registered health professional with many years’ experience in diagnostic imaging, teaching and health research.

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