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'Unconditional Love': Having A Dog Can Help Your Heart

By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) - We all know "Fido" is your best friend, but did you know having a dog can help your heart?

That's what growing research indicates.

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It is great news for Coloradans who love canines. Every day is a dog day in Denver's Washington Park.

"I don't know how anyone could live without a puppy in their home," said Barb Liedloff, who was walking her dog, Martina.

Dog lovers are rabid about their pets and with good reason.

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"Dog ownership is associated with better health habits and thus, actually better health," said Dr. Larry Allen, cardiologist at University of Colorado Hospital.

Dogs get people out and exercising. Dr. Allen runs and hikes with his two dogs.

CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh asked the cardiologist, "Is a dog your heart's best friend?"

"Could be," said Allen, "The research would suggest that's possible."

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UCHealth analyzed existing research and publications about the benefits of having a furry friend and found lots of information to support it

You don't have to convince Martina's owner, Liedloff.

"I've read studies about when you pet a dog, your blood pressure goes down," she said.

Heidi Schoomaker said she got her golden retriever, Cooper, before she got married and had a baby. It was a tough time for Schoomaker.

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"He really lifted my spirits and was so good for my heart and following that came husband and baby," Schoomaker said smiling.

Research indicates petting a dog releases oxytocin, a hormone that wards off depression and boosts immunity.

According to UCHealth, studies show the average benefits of dog ownership appeared to be greater than that provided by a friend or spouse.

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It is hypothesized that some of the particular benefit of a pet reflects the lack of critical judgment by the pet. These associations were pronounced in patients who already have heart disease.

"They never talk back," said Dave Schramm, walking his granddog, Carlee.

"When you walk in the door they're so happy every time, which your husband may not be," said Schoomaker.

"Unconditional love," said Theresa Schramm.

It turns out, dogs not only steal your heart, they make it stronger.

LINK: UCHealth's Your Heart's Best Friend | UCHealth Dog Heart Health Highlights

Kathy Walsh is CBS4's Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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