Getting a Dog to Boost Your Immune System? Please Don’t!


Out on the interwebs recently, I stumbled across an article about strengthening the human immune system. I can’t recall the website or the author of the article, but it mentioned some sensible, natural solutions. Things like eating healthier, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation.

I was nodding along until I got to the line that said, “Get a dog right away.” Now I know it’s true that owning pets can help prevent allergies and asthma in kids, but the person who wrote this article was also suggesting that dogs help increase the good bacteria in our bodies. Which may very well be true. But the idea of “getting a dog right away” in an effort to add better bacteria to your body doesn’t sit well with me.

Let me start by saying that my family has had a dog for the past two years and we love him very much. I also believe that in a perfect world, every household would have a dog–or some sort of pet. (I understand that some people are afraid of animals, and others have allergies, but in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any fear or allergies, right?)

But although our kids started asking for a canine friend when they were in preschool, we didn’t get one until they were teenagers. Perhaps we did their immune systems a disservice, but until recently, our family simply wasn’t ready; we didn’t have the time, bandwidth, or fenced-in backyard for a dog. And one of the saddest things a person can do is take on an animal they can’t truly care for. But rather than talk about animal neglect and the societal trend of “disposable pets,” here’s an article from the Alameda Patch about this disturbing phenomenon.

Still think you’re up for getting a pooch? Awesome! But for what it’s worth, here’s a brief listing of some of the ways my life (and the lives of my family members) has changed since we brought Spencer home to live with us. I’ll start with the good points, but if you’re seriously considering a dog, it’s probably more important that you read the negative ones.

  • We all believe we picked the world’s best dog. Yes, Spencer can be a pain in the butt, but he’s a true sweetheart, and it’s so comforting to snuggle up with him when we’re in a bad mood–or a good one.
  • It’s really fun to take him for walks. We’re lucky enough to live near several wooded areas, and before we had a dog, we hardly ever spent time in those areas. Now, going to the woods is part of my daily routine, and I’ve not only developed a better appreciation for the nature in my town, but have met so many wonderful dog owners. Honestly, when I think about my life before Spencer, it seems somewhat empty.
  • I spend more time walking and thinking. Before having a dog, I spent many days alone with my computer, writing for hours. And while that was good, it could get frustrating, especially when the words weren’t coming. Now, I’m out with the dog early in the morning, some time after lunch, and at least once in the evening. Sometimes I get irritated if I’m on a writing roll and need to take a break, but those breaks often get my blood circulating better, and help bring new ideas to my brain.

OK. Now for some negative stuff.

  • Lots of things got chewed up. We got Spencer at a shelter in Massachusetts, after he’d been rescued from the woods of South Carolina. He was about a year old, and was found loaded with parasites and a lame leg. We couldn’t believe how mellow he was when we first brought him home, but most likely, he was in shock after going through so much transition in a short time (rescued, brought North in a truck, taken to a shelter, cleaned up, medicated, neutered, sent home with our family). So for the first week or so, he behaved wonderfully. Then, once he got comfortable, all hell broke loose. He destroyed an entire couch and two ottomans, numerous pillows, at least one area rug, too many pairs of shoes and flip-flops to count, several pairs of glasses (including two prescription pairs), two remote controls, and many, many other items. Eventually, with the help of a trainer, lots of chew toys and even more patience, he stopped chewing everything in sight, but still destroys random items on occasion.
  • My time was seriously reduced. Yes, you’ve heard this a thousand times, but when a family gets a dog, most often it’s one of the adults in the household who takes care of him/her. Our daughter was the one who wanted a dog most, but despite the fact that she and her brother both adore Spencer, he needs a significant amount of exercise, and I’m the one who usually has sufficient time to walk and run with him. I now spend at least two hours a day outside with the dog. This isn’t a complaint (see above), but if no one in your home has that kind of time, you might want to seriously reconsider getting a dog.
  • We’ve spent thousands of dollars in just two years. When people talk about the financial cost of dogs, they often say things like “dog food’s not free,” but if you get a dog, food will probably not be your biggest new expense. Of course, routine veterinary care (checkups, shots) isn’t cheap, but when your dog gets sick, you can often count on spending a pretty penny on finding out what’s wrong and getting him/her better. On three different occasions, we’ve brought Spencer to the vet because he didn’t seem well–once it was extensive diarrhea, once vomiting for more than three days, once lethargy–and on each of those three occasions, we spent close to $1000 on testing and medicine. Unless you have pet insurance–which is also somewhat costly–or your pet is extremely healthy, you will most likely end up having some “sick visits” at the vet. Oh, and if you go away on vacation and need to find a dog sitter to care for your pooch, most of them charge between $40 and $60 a day. Likewise, if you can’t walk your dog as much as you like, dog walkers normally charge at least $10 for a walk. I know of one local dog walker who charges $35 an hour.

That’s probably enough for now. My point is that it’s important to consider all the positives and negatives of bringing a dog into your life before taking that plunge. It’s almost impossible to turn on the TV or go on the internet these days without seeing ads from animal shelters, begging people to adopt homeless pets. And yes, there are so many living in shelters and foster homes. But please, get a dog because you really, really want a new friend, and are prepared to care for him/her as you would a family member. Don’t get one just to boost your immune system!

About Mary Rowen

My three published novels, LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner), LIVING BY EAR, and IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY focus on women figuring out who they are and what they want from life. Music and musicians have a way of finding their way into the stories. I live in the Boston area with my family and pets.
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6 Responses to Getting a Dog to Boost Your Immune System? Please Don’t!

  1. jan says:

    Very good points. Your vacations get somewhat limited with a pet as well. If I leave my socks on the floor my cat takes off with them and dumps them in his wet cat food!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Rowen says:

      Definitely, Jan! And yes, there’s no jetting off anywhere with pets–not that I did a lot of that before pets either 🙂 As for your cat–I wonder what he’s trying to accomplish by putting your socks in his food? That sounds funny, although probably not for you…


  2. jayni wilson-sickler says:

    Mary, thank you for approaching this important topic from this angle.I inherited two Aussie Shepherds when I married my second husband five years ago, and, although we have lots of acreage, and they chose to live outdoors and run the land, there were huge medical expenses involved. One developed cancer and lived for a year with the disease; vacations became staycations; I was frequently chasing away coyotes who picked up the scent of illness/weakness; we sacrificed a back courtyard garden to hospice care. Our lives and finances were definitely affected by these two dogs, especially as they aged.
    Since they passed 1+ years ago, we’ve decided on stuffed animals only!! No expense and no mourning. (And, of course, there’s always the option of having an inner flamingo!)
    As for boosting our immune systems, I believe that all beloved pets give us unconditional love and, thereby, raise our spirits, and, as a consequence, strengthen our immune systems. It’s a gorgeous side effect of committing to a lifelong relationship with an animal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Rowen says:

    So sorry to hear about your dogs, Jayni. Losing a pet is such a heartbreaking thing. And yes, as they age, medical expenses can be staggering. We love our dog so much, but when we got him, we never expected him to make such a huge impact on our lives. The last time I had a dog was when I was a kid, and back then, we would just let him out the door in the morning and he’d (usually) come home at night for dinner and sleeping.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elena says:

    I love my dogs but honestly I could do without the tumble weed size hair balls around the house! Especially behind the stove!


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