benefits of having a dog

Did you know that pet parents fare much better when it comes to health in comparison to non-pet parents? Well, according to research and scientific studies, there are several health benefits of having a dog.  And spoiler alert, these benefits aren’t just limited to dog parents being more physically active.

Nevertheless, there are some significant health differences between the two groups. As you read, hopefully it will shed some light on this phenomenon for our non-dog parents, who may not understand why so many people choose to share their lives with dogs. Especially in the U.S., where approximately 75.8 million Americans have a pet dog, and consider them to be members of their families.

And for you existing dog parents, you’ll gain valuable insight into just how much your beloved dog is helping to improve your health, ultimately causing you to cherish them even more.

So continue reading as we discuss some incredible health benefits of having a dog.

Before beginning, I want to mention that the goal of this post is to have fun learning about the beautiful relationship between dogs and humans as it pertains to your health. By no means is it meant to condone adopting a dog for the sole benefit of improving your health.

Dogs are living, loving creatures that require quality attention and care. Choosing to adopt should be well thought out and result in a mutually rewarding experience. This means concluding that you are willing and able to care for your dog properly. Because as we continue, you will soon learn the many ways that your dog will in-fact, help to take care of you.

Let’s dive in!

MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF HAVING A DOG:

Enhanced Social Life:

On the surface, it’s probably not as obvious, but maintaining a quality social life can positively impact your overall health. And we can learn a thing or two from dogs when it comes to the “art of socializing.”

Dogs are master socializers by nature, and this study provides some interesting research on how dogs help to improve their owner’s social life. They conducted a telephone survey of randomly selected residents in three cities in the U.S. and one in Australia. On the whole, it found that dogs facilitated healthy “support networks” amongst dog parents.

The dog parents felt like the people that they met through their dogs were their actual friends. Additionally, 40% reported receiving one or more types of emotional or tangible support from people they met through their dogs, attributing to a benefit to their overall health and well being.

They also found that since their dogs facilitate “in-person” social engagement, they play a significant role in developing healthy neighborhoods. Therefore, the communities in which these dogs live have decreased rates of social isolation and loneliness amongst the residents, which aids in eliminating risk factors for mental health issues.

Moreover, the study advised that dog owners, in particular, tend to know the people in their neighborhoods more so than non-dog owners. This social engagement, between residents with and without dogs, helps the dog parent and their community as a whole feel more connected.

Dogs facilitating social connection is a fantastic health benefit of having a dog because it’s spreads to the community.  Therefore, the next time you see a dog, or if someone wants to say hello to yours, take a second to stop and say hello. By doing so, you’re allowing your dog to help make your health and neighborhood a better place.

Improved Dating Life:

Health benefits of having a dog

The social health benefits of having a dog also extend to improving your dating life. According to research conducted via a survey by Dog’s Trust, the largest U.K. charity for dog welfare, they surveyed 700 respondents, and 60% advised that owning a dog can make people more attractive.

Another whopping 95% advised that they feel more comfortable speaking to someone they didn’t know if the person had a dog. In general, the respondents felt that dog owners seemed friendlier, and therefore more approachable and trustworthy.

According to Helen Fisher, a Senior Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute and a Chief Adviser to Match.com she says that:

Having a dog…is a powerful mating signal. It really says something about you. It says you can care for a creature, that you can follow a schedule and get home to feed it, that you can walk it, and love it and spend time with it.” Fisher, Helen. The Independent. 2018.

You can learn more about Helen’s insight into how dog parents get more dates here But in short, it’s an indication that one is reliable, nurturing, and caring, which are vital qualities in any relationship.

Helps our Emotional and Mental Health:

Therefore, this benefit of having an improved dating life facilitated by your dog also serves as an emotional and mental health benefit. It provides you with a sense of confidence and well-being.

Because for some people, dating or meeting new people, can sometimes cause anxiety or even panic attacks.

And if someone suffers from anxiety in a social setting, particularly when it comes to meeting a dating prospect, it can lead to loneliness. However, if your dog is social, but you are not, then a friendly encounter facilitated by your dog can serve as the perfect ice breaker.

People tend to drop their defenses at the site of a dog, and will often ask if they can say hello to or pet your dog. And from there, a conversation can flow naturally, all thanks to your dog.

Dogs can have a calming effect and alleviate the anxiety that one might expect otherwise in stressful situations. Their social support aids in boosting confidence and self-esteem, attributing to your mental and emotional health.

The Importance of Staying Mentally Fit:

Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health.
And contrary to the past, doctors today take mental health more seriously. There’s also less of a social stigma attached to mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.

According to Artem Cheprasov, and Jennifer Levitas, Doctors and Instructors at Study.com:

It wasn’t all too long ago that the only health your doctor would’ve considered seriously was that of your body… But if you came in complaining of a broken heart or a bruised ego, they may have stared at you blankly…Today, doctors pay more attention to a person’s emotions and behaviors as indicators of potential health issues than ever before.

Proper psychological health involves a normal emotional, behavioral, and social maturity to a person. This means such a person is in a healthy state of mental well-being, one that they can use to function normally in society and during everyday events.”

Therefore you can thank Fido for enriching your social life and improving your emotional and mental health. Even if your encounters do not result in a date, the point here is that you’ll gain a sense of confidence and connection with others. Eventually, you will find it very natural to meet and talk to strangers, even without your pup.

Decreased Anxiety and Depression:

Anxiety:

When most people think of “therapy dogs,” they tend to think of someone getting their dog certified to help others. But in many cases, the dog parent is the one on the receiving end of their dog’s therapy.

This is because, as previously mentioned, doctors are taking psychological health just as seriously as your physical health. It’s especially crucial in modern-day society because our social support networks are often fragmented and spread around the world.

Many of us no longer live within walking distance or even in the same cities as our families and close friends. And when life happens, it can be debilitating to have to deal with emotional or mental stress on your own.

And studies have shown that having a dog can help to fill that void. This study conducted by BMC Psychiatry analyzed the relationship between having a pet and the management of diagnosable mental health conditions. Their findings indicated that pets offer benefits to their owners, including:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improved quality of life and
  • Social and community interaction

Additionally, there are Psychiatric Service Dogs specially trained to help people with issues like anxiety. These fantastic pups can carry out a myriad of tasks, such as:

  • Detecting signs of an anxiety attack before it occurs
  • Fetching medication
  • Fetching a phone
  • Alerting someone to help

These super dogs offer not only their parents companionship, but also life-saving assistance. Therefore, if you love dogs and think that you could benefit from an emotional support or service dog, you can learn more about the process here. There are many types of support dogs, but in any event, you must first receive authorization from a mental health professional.

Depression:

In a similar vein, dogs can also help their owners overcome depression. And not just clinical depression. It could be something as simple as having a bad day, or major, like grieving a loss.  In any event, dogs are the ultimate anti-depressant. Petting, hugging, talking to, playing with, also looking at a smiling dog can improve your mood.

If you’ve ever been sad around a dog that you have a special bond with, you may recall that your dog tried to comfort you by either licking, cuddling, giving you his or her paw, or even sitting on your lap.

I’ve met this sweet angel in the video below. Her name is Louboutina. You could catch her with her dad in the Chelsea section of New York City, giving out hugs and handshakes to passersby. Some people would thank her dad for allowing Louboutina to help brighten their day.

Louboutina-The Hugging Golden Retriever:

And studies show that also caring for a dog can can help you treat the symptoms of depression. Because you must have a routine in place to care for a dog, and that can give you a sense of purpose.

This WebMD article clearly outlines how your dog can help you manage your depression.

And as previously mentioned, once outdoors with your dog, they will open up your world. This is wonderful because interacting with a variety of people, even casually, can stave off those feelings of loneliness and isolation which often accompany depression.

Depression & Exercise:

More importantly, getting outdoors with your dog provides you with physical exercise. This exercise helps to release endorphins and brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin which help to naturally treat depression by regulating your mood. Which leads me to my next point.

PHYSICAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF HAVING A DOG

Dogs Improve Children’s Physical and Mental Health:

According to the Center for Disease Control, over 8% of children under the age of 18 have asthma in the United States. And asthma is a severe condition. It can lead to asthma attacks causing the airways to swell and tighten, making it difficult for someone with this condition to breathe.

And symptoms may worsen over time, contributing to a diminished quality of life.

However, studies have shown that if you expose children under the age of three to a dog, it will decrease or eliminate their risk of developing asthma. And these benefits extended to exposure even when a baby is still in the womb.

And event more significantly, a study conducted by Plos One  found that exposure to a pet dog in early childhood was associated with a significant decrease in being diagnosed with schizophrenia. 

Psychology Today’s, research has shown that there are additional health benefits of having a dog specifically for families with children. They indicated that if the child has a healthy relationship with the dog, the child will generally grow to have, a more robust immune system, and improved behavior, including positive interactions with other children.

Here, we have man’s best friend to thank for helping children to grow into physically healthy, well-adjusted adults. Yet, again, helping to make the world a better place.

Family/Kid Friendly Dog Breeds:Kid Friendly Dogs

Therefore, the next time your child asks if they can get a dog, keeping these health benefits in mind, it may be worth your while.

I would just encourage you to look into kid-friendly dog breeds. The American Kennel Club has a comprehensive list here. In addition to that, I would recommend seeking out a dog trainer for family group training sessions.

This way, your entire family can be consistent with reinforcing your dog’s training.  It will also teach your child boundaries. Simply ask your dog trainer for some bite prevention best practices.

While most family dogs are incredibly tolerant and patient with small children, a nip or accidental bite can occur. This can happen if the dog gets overly excited, or conversely, is stressed, scared, or fatigued, and may not want to be bothered. Accordingly, being able to identify those signs, and having a training plan in place before you adopt is critical.

Improved Cardiovascular Health & Longevity:

Dogs touch our hearts in more ways than one. In addition to offering their unconditional love, they also improve our cardiovascular health.

As previously mentioned, having a dog typically makes you spend more time outdoors, with most people walking their dogs on average, at least three times a day.

As a result, this constant time spent outdoors improves your cardiovascular health. Studies have shown this particular health benefit of having a dog is even more notable in patients with prior cardiovascular diseases. In general, it reported a 31% risk reduction for cardiovascular death for people who have dogs.

Their findings concluded that dog parenting is associated with a lower risk of death over the long term, which is linked to the reduction in cardiovascular mortality.

This longevity benefit is also because walking is a great cardio workout. Even if you walk at a moderate to slow pace, it can be effective over an extended period.

But Only If You Walk Your Dog:

health benefits of having a dogHowever, you can only gain this health benefit of having a dog if you lace up those shoes and get out there and walk them.

Because as a former Pet Care Specialist, I’m fully aware of people who have dogs, but do not take them out for daily walks. This is sometimes because they have a miniature dog and can utilize wee-wee pads, or they have ample yard space for their dog or both.

Therefore, a dog parent wouldn’t derive this health benefit simply because they have a dog.

For this reason, I’m suggesting that you take advantage of this opportunity, and allow your dog to help you improve your health.

By simply implementing a dog walking schedule can be very useful in managing your time and your cardiovascular health in a very sustainable way.

Additionally, making healthy choices helps you to develop more healthy habits in general. You may find yourself eating healthier, eliminating smoking, or drinking, or becoming more active in general. All thanks to motivation and inspiration from your furry friend.

Because when you take advantage of being physically active with your dog, you gain long-term benefits. I’ve met women in their 50s and 60s who either had a dog or previously worked as Pet Care Specialists. They would always say that whenever they had their annual check-up, their doctors would tell them that they have the heart of a 20-year-old.

These women attributed their healthy heart and lifestyle to merely walking with their dogs every day.

CONCLUSION

In closing, the health benefits of having a dog are holistic. Dogs make us happy, reduce stress, keep us socially connected, get us dates, and improve our physical and cardiovascular health. For these many reasons, dog parents are statistically healthier than non-dog parents.

Gaining these health benefits from our dogs in the process of caring for them, helps to keep us mentally and physically sound. Otherwise, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

But having a dog gives those of us who choose to love them, all the inspiration that we need. So let’s appreciate our dogs even more, for the special gifts that they bring into our lives and the world.

Do you have a dog? Feel free to share some comments on how your special dog has helped improve your health. We’d love to hear from you.

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