10 benefits of having a dog for your mental and physical health
- Dog ownership is linked to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, and helping people recover faster from surgery.
- Looking into your dog’s eyes boosts oxytocin, i.e. “the love hormone,” helping you form social attachments and generally feel happier.
- Dog owners are almost four times more likely than non-dog owners to meet daily physical activity guidelines, walking nearly 300 minutes outside per week with their dogs.
- This article was medically reviewed by Katherine Compitus, DSW, LCSW, MA, MSEd, clinical social worker, educator, and applied anthrozoologist with a private practice based in New York State.
Dogs make great companions, whether it’s going for walks, cuddling on the couch, or playing fetch, dogs keep you happier, healthier, among other benefits. Here’s why having a dog in your life has numerous physical and mental health benefits.
5 physical health benefits of having a dog
Having a dog is a great excuse to spend more time outdoors.
Whether you’re going for a walk with a canine friend or playing fetch, dogs are an amazing excuse to get up, get outside, and get moving.
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Dogs help general health and well-being. A comprehensive review of studies published between 1950 and 2019 shows that dog parents (and anyone who lives with a dog) have better responses to stress, lower blood pressure, and longer lifespan. Dog ownership is also linked to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, as well as helping people recover faster from surgery.
Dogs can help your heart. Dog owners have lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure than those without dogs, according to Harvard Health. These health benefits suggest that spending quality time with a dog may help improve overall heart health.
Dog owners get more physical activity. “Dogs are the ultimate exercise buddy! Even if your dog only needs a couple of short walks a day, they can still encourage you to be more physically active,” says Martin Goldstein, an integrative veterinarian and bestselling author, also known as Dr. Marty who has been an expert guest on Oprah, Martha Stewart, and Good Morning America.
A 2019 study shows that dog owners are almost four times more likely than non-dog owners to meet daily physical activity guidelines. Dog owners walk nearly 300 minutes every week while outside with their dogs; that’s 200 minutes more than people who walk without a dog.
Dogs help people with dementia symptoms. A 2011 study shows that people with dementia who were in the presence of a visiting dog experienced fewer aggressive outbursts and reduced heart rates, which suggest a calming effect.
Service dogs help people with seizures. Service dogs benefit those with epilepsy by alerting them to the dangers of an oncoming seizure, minutes to an hour before it happens. The service dog’s alert helps the person with epilepsy take seizure-blocking medication and allows for time to get to a safe place or call for help if needed.
5 mental health benefits of having a dog
Having a dog to cuddle can help if you’re feeling down.
If you just need a non-judgmental, fluffy ear to talk to, dogs are loyal, which is just one reason why people have such an incredible bond that can be great for your mental health.
Service dogs help veterans with PTSD. A 2018 study shows that dogs help people psychologically recover from trauma. Military veterans with PTSD do better, mind and body when they have a service dog. These veterans showed better coping skills and fewer PTSD symptoms. Service dogs can also be psychiatric, hearing dogs for deaf people, mobility dogs, and more.
Dogs make you feel less lonely. A 2019 Australian study shows that new dog owners experienced less loneliness within three months. This may be one reason why animal shelters saw a massive increase in dog adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdowns and stay at home orders minimized social companionship.
Dogs make you more social. Approximately 40% of pet owners had an easier time making new friends, according to a 2015 survey. Researchers found that pet owners were more likely to get to know neighbors, while dog owners in particular were significantly more likely than other pet owners to make friends with others they met through socializing with a dog.
Dogs make you happier. A 2009 study found that looking into your dog’s eyes boosts your oxytocin levels. Also known as “the love hormone,” oxytocin helps you form attachments, which generally makes you feel happier.
Dogs are a great example of how to be more mindful and present. Mindfulness is the act of living in the now, not thinking about the future or the past, just staying in the present moment. Dogs are great at living in the present, and that can help you do the same, according to Harvard Health. Walking a dog or even just watching them eagerly take in the world around them can help you to do the same.
Risks of having a pet dog
Dogs can carry zoonotic diseases.
While there are many health benefits of owning a dog, there are a few reasons to be cautious before getting one.
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There are some dangers for the elderly or those with balance issues. A dog jumping at you or crossing in front of your feet could cause a fall or broken bones in already frail people.
Dog owners should be vigilant about the possibility of zoonotic diseases — illnesses passed from animals to humans. A bacteria called campylobacter, which can cause diarrhea in people, as well as parasites like hookworm or tapeworms, can spread from dogs to their people. Rabies transmission is another risk; always vaccinate your pet and bring them to the veterinarian immediately if bitten by another dog or wild animal.
If you suffer from allergic asthma, always consult a doctor before interacting with or adopting a dog.
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