Surprising Health Benefits of Owning a Dog
Dog lovers have been saying it for years: Owning a dog is good for you. Skeptics claim that the purported benefits of having a dog are exaggerated, but countless studies have shown that adding a dog to the family can improve your health.
Many of the physical benefits are tied to psychological ones, but the results are undeniable: We're living healthier, happier lives thanks to humans' best friend. Before you say no to that puppy your kids have been begging for, read up on the most significant health benefits of dog ownership.
Dogs Provide Social Support
Social support may not seem like a health benefit, but think about it: Our mental health is directly correlated with our physical health and wellbeing and social support is a big part of that. Unfortunately, many of us don't have time for a lavish social life — or any social life at all. Dogs can help fill the gap for those who are missing out on important social connection.
Pups provide unconditional affection and support, sometimes more so than people. Your dog is also available around the clock. Some small studies suggest that dog ownership lessens feelings of isolation and loneliness. Another survey of pet owners and non-pet owners by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute churned up telling results: 85 percent of people believed that spending time with a pet reduced loneliness.
Owning a Dog Makes You More of an Extrovert
Speaking of loneliness, owning a dog also makes it easier to interact with other people. Without a dog, it's very easy to never encounter anyone outside of your coworkers and family. Dogs force you to get outside daily. Walks are the bare minimum, but many dog owners also take their pets to the dog park, on hikes, to the pet store and on other excursions where they're likely to run into other dog people.
Dogs are also stellar conversation starters. One study conducted in Britain determined that four out of five dog owners talk with people they run into during dog walks. In other words, just having a canine around makes it easier to make new friends, which isn't the easiest task once you hit adulthood.
A Canine May Even Boost Your Attractiveness
But wait, there's more! If you're on the market and can't bear the thought of signing up for another online dating app, get a dog instead. For one, walking with a dog makes you instantly less intimidating and more approachable. It might make you more attractive to the opposite sex as well.
In one series of studies, men consistently got more women's phone numbers when they approached them with their dog by their side vs. when they asked them out sans canine. It's also about perception. When individuals rated people's photos, they perceived photos of people with their dogs as happier and more laidback.
Even if you're sticking with Bumble, try this hack: Use a selfie with your dog as your profile pick. According to a study by Pet Wingman, both men and women swiped right more frequently on profiles with dogs in their photos.
Dog Owners Have Lower Stress Levels
Even without the added social interaction, canines have consistently proven to lower feelings of anxiety and stress. Multiple studies prove the benefits of therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, but your dog doesn't need special training to help.
Simply petting a dog you know can slow your heart rate and respiration rate, lower blood pressure and help you relax. Researchers at Washington State University discovered that petting a dog for as little as 10 minutes reduces cortisol, the hormone that signals elevated stress levels. Go pet your dog — you might feel your subconsciously clenched jaw and tightened shoulders relax for the first time all day.
Dog Ownership Is Good Workout Motivation
While some dog breeds need more walks than others, all breeds benefit from long walks in the park– and so do we! One 2019 British study reported that dog parents are 400 percent more likely than non-dog owners to meet their daily step goals. On average, dog owners walk for about 300 minutes every week. Non-dog owners average about 100 minutes.
Of course, getting a dog won't force you to exercise if you really don't want to. Plenty of dog owners let their dogs do their business in the backyard or just take them on brief potty breaks instead of full-fledged walks. If that sounds like you, hold off on getting a dog until you're ready to commit to the pet parent lifestyle. It's a long-term undertaking, but when you do it right, it's worth it.
Dog People Have Healthier Hearts
Owning a dog has statistically proven to help people live longer. It's not clear why, exactly, but a comprehensive evaluation of all the studies conducted between 1950 and 2019 showed that owning a dog lowered people's risk of death.
So far, the leading hypothesis as to why this phenomenon occurs is that the connection between humans and dogs alleviates stress, as mentioned previously. Stress is a strong contributing factor to cardiovascular disease, so anything that lowers it helps you stay healthy as you age. One 2013 study conducted by the American Heart Association also concluded that individuals who owned a dog were 33 percent more likely to survive a heart attack after hospitalization than non-dog owners.
Dogs Can Also Help Improve the Results of Your Next Blood Panel
Medical researchers also found that dog owners often have more optimal levels of certain markers of heart health on their blood tests. Their levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that can contribute to clogged arteries, were lower than those of non-dog owners. Their cholesterol levels were better too.
The correlation doesn't come with a clear reason why, but countless studies draw the same conclusion: Dog ownership helps you stay healthy. Whether it's because dogs promote a more active lifestyle or because of some mysterious benefit of puppy snuggles, hanging out with your dog might be just what the doctor ordered.
Spending Time With a Dog Elevates Happiness Hormones
As it turns out, you don't even have to be next to your dog for them to make your day a little brighter. Just seeing your dog can boost your mood. A 2009 study conducted in Japan discovered that gazing into your dog's eyes raises levels of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is known as the "love hormone" because it plays a roll in bonding, trust and affection. Because of this effect, owning a dog can help people fight depression and anxiety in tandem with therapy and other treatment options.
Dogs Can Help Kids With ADHD
Speaking of mental health, dogs are amazing for both neurodivergent kids and adults. For people with ADHD, having a dog helps them learn to cope with their symptoms by forcing them to practice skills that apply to other areas of life. Take time management. People with ADHD often struggle to keep track of time and stay organized. Owning a dog forces them to stick to a schedule, staying on top of potty breaks and feeding routines.
Dogs also help people, particularly kids, stay calm and focused. They provide kids with an outlet for their energy via playtime, channeling their non-stop energy and need for movement into something healthy. A pup also offers unconditional emotional support, which is extremely helpful for neurodivergent kiddos who often feel like outsiders at school.
Getting a Dog Can Help Stave Off Signs of Aging
Dog ownership isn't just good for kids. Studies on dogs and senior citizens showed that dog therapy improves the quality of life of older adults in more ways than one. One study determined that participation in a dog therapy program improved cognitive function of residents in care facilities.
A similar study showed that seniors with dementia experienced less agitation and were more likely to socialize with others after spending time with a therapy dog. You don't need to have Alzheimer's to benefit from the companionship of a dog, however. For seniors who still live independently and are in relatively good health, contributing to the care of a dog or owning one themselves helps encourage daily movement and social interaction, both of which improve lifespan and overall wellbeing.
Dog Ownership Promotes Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been a buzzword for some time now — and for good reason. The practice of living each moment fully and accepting it without judgment is a great technique for lowering stress levels and dogs just so happen to make it easier. Firstly, dogs are masters at mindfulness. They only know how to live in the moment, as proven by their delight when you walk in the door, even if it's only been 30 seconds.
Observe your pup closely on your next walk together. We can almost guarantee that they're focused completely on the experience at hand: The sights, smells, sounds, environment, all of it! They're not thinking about what they'll do when they get home or worrying about the vet visit on the calendar next weekend. They're living in the moment. And you can do the same.
Additionally, just being around your dog is a good mindfulness practice. As a pet owner, you have to be attentive to your dog's needs because they can't verbalize them. That attention brings your focus to the moment you're sharing together, blocking out buzzing worries and to do lists.
Service Dogs Restore Independence, Supporting Both Mental and Physical Health
Emotional support dogs can help manage stress levels and give your mood a boost, but trained service dogs can do so much more. They can help people with mobility impairments live fully, support veterans and others who suffer from PTSD and offer coping tools for people on the autism spectrum.
Some service dogs are also trained for medical purposes, like alerting diabetics if their blood sugar levels need attention, warning people with epilepsy that a seizure is coming and helping to keep Alzheimer’s patients from getting lost or confused in busy places.
Dogs Are Good for Gut Health Too
The list goes on and on. Recently, studies have also shown that owning a dog may help to boost your microbiome. The reason is mildly disgusting, but the results are fabulous. When you share your home with a canine, you're exposed to the unique bacteria they bring to the table, which naturally boosts your immune system and diversifies the healthy internal bacteria found in your gut.
For the same reason, dog ownership can actually lessen asthma and allergy symptoms. This doesn't apply to people who have serious dog allergies, of course, but getting a hypoallergenic dog will provide the same microbiome benefits minus the watery eyes.