If you’ve ever come home from a bad day at work and instantly felt better after being greeted by your dog, you aren’t alone (and you aren’t just imagining it!) There are a lot of proven mental and physical health benefits of dog ownership, including reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and even a heightened immune system. In short, there are many health benefits of owning a dog. They can help you live a longer, happier, and healthier life.
Studies have shown that there are benefits to just being around dogs, even if you don’t own one. So, if you aren’t a dog owner, read this list and then make a playdate with your best friend and her pooch.
Mental health benefits of owning a dog
1. Reduce stress
Just a few minutes with a dog can lower your blood pressure and anxiety. At the same time, you’ll increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which are chemicals that can help you feel calmer. Studies have shown that having dogs around the office can ease tension among co-workers. The same is true for married couples. One study even found that petting a dog for 10 minutes eased stress in college students who were getting ready for exams.
2. Help you socialize
There’s no such thing as walking alone when you have a dog. You’ll meet people you would have never come into contact with, including fellow dog owners and people who just love to stop and meet new pets. In fact, researchers have found that 40 percent of dog owners have an expanded social life because they stop and talk to other people when they’re out with their dogs. This is especially important for aging adults who find it challenging to meet new people. Pets are instant conversation starters, which can keep pet owners from becoming isolated as they age.
3. Instill a sense of purpose
If you only have to take care of yourself, you’re more likely to let yourself go. And while sleeping in until noon on Saturdays when you’re in your 20s and don’t have to worry about anyone besides yourself might sound amazing, having no sense of purpose when you’re in your 70s is less appealing. Owning a dog gives people a reason to get out of bed in the morning, which can improve cognitive function and increase overall happiness.
4. Alleviate symptoms of depression
Depression is a serious illness that can be debilitating. One of the best health benefits of owning a dog is some studies suggest that being around a pet can offset feelings of depression and help people who suffer from depression get through the day. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes pet therapy as a form of psychotherapy that can help alleviate symptoms of mood disorders, including depression.
5. Improve your mood
It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you have an adorable pup who just wants to be petted. Being around a pet can instantly boost your mood and help you put things into perspective. So, the next time you’re having a bad day, take a few minutes to pet your dog (or borrow your friend’s dog) for an instant, natural mood booster.
Physical benefits of owning a dog
6. You’ll live longer
A recent study from Swedish researchers concludes that owning a dog can actually help you live a longer life. The study looked at 3.4 million people who didn’t have a history of cardiovascular disease in 2001. The researchers followed their health records for 12 years. They also kept up with whether or not the people in the study registered as a dog owner (which is mandatory in Sweden) in that same timeframe.
They concluded that dog owners were at less risk of developing cardiovascular disease than non-dog owners. Particularly interesting is that dog owners who lived alone were even less likely to die, with a 33 percent lower risk of death than people who lived alone without a dog.
7. You’ll be more fit
Dog owners are naturally more fit because they have to get up and walk their dogs every single day. This is especially important for aging adults, who might otherwise stay inside their homes all day. One study concluded that older people who walked their dogs every day had a lower body mass index, fewer limitations, and fewer doctor’s visits.
8. You’ll lose weight
Interestingly enough, a lot of people don’t consider walking their dog as “exercise,” but rather as a responsibility. This line of thinking works to your advantage since you’ll end up working out plus walking your dog as a dog owner. One study found that people who walked loaner dogs for up to 30 minutes, five days a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year.
9. Improved heart health
Beyond filling your heart with happiness (which is important), your dog actually makes your heart physically stronger. Dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease than non-owners. There’s also evidence that owning a dog can lead to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Further, studies suggest that dog owners are more likely to live after a heart attack than non-owners. So, take a minute to thank your canine companion for keeping your heart healthy (and happy).
10. Ease physical pain
If you live with chronic pain, consider spending time with your pet before reaching for the pain meds. Research has shown that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can reduce pain levels in patients following total joint replacement surgery. Patients who participated in AAT needed 28 percent less pain medication than patients who did not participate.
Benefits for children
11. Reduce allergies and improve immune function
Kids who are around pets from an early age are less likely to develop asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia, according to research. In addition, having a pet around can boost your immune system, leading to fewer sick days as a kid and as an adult.
12. Improve social skills in kids who have Autism
There are a growing number of AAT programs for kids who have Autism. These programs help kids step out of their comfort zones, find companionship, and learn to care for another being. AAT programs include dogs, cats, horses, and other animals.
13. Learn responsibility
Kids who grow up around dogs learn how to take care of another living being. This helps them become more responsible, especially if they’re in charge of tasks like feeding the dog and taking him for walks (once the child is old enough, of course).
14. Learn empathy
Perhaps just as important as learning responsibility is the fact that kids who grow up around dogs learn empathy. Numerous studies show the correlation between having a dog and growing into a compassionate and empathetic adult.
15. Have a constant companion
Just like adults, kids have bad days. Coming home to a furry companion who loves you no matter what is one of the greatest things about owning a dog. The same is true for kids as it is for adults.