Whether you can’t resist a cute puppy’s face or you just want some company at home, there are many reasons why you might consider adopting a dog. But you may be surprised to learn that owning a dog is about more than just having a furry friend to greet you at the door.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 67% of households in the United States have at least one pet. Sure, they’re fun to have around. But, there are also benefits of having a dog that extend into your mental health and physical well-being: Statistics show that dog ownership can actually help to lengthen your life. Experts found that across more than 3.8 million study participants, owning a dog offered a 24% risk reduction in cardiovascular mortality compared to non-dog owners. Those who had previous cardiovascular issues experienced even greater benefits. And that’s not all.
What are the benefits of having a dog?
People who own a pup might rave about how great it is, but the human-animal relationship has rewards that can be scientifically proven. Here are other health benefits that those with a four-legged friend might see. Pet owners can enjoy the following:
1. Dogs help you stay active
Man’s best friend often needs to run and play in order to stay healthy and active, requiring dog owners to engage in at least some sort of physical activity with them. Even if you don’t consider physical activity with your dog as proper exercise, you can still count this leisure time as a health benefit. A study in Western Canada found that men and women who took their canine companion out regularly engaged in roughly 300 minutes of walking per week compared to non-dog owners who only exercised half as much.
Playing fetch with your dog using a stick or a ball can even be enough to improve your heart rate and help to burn a few calories. Overall, many people who own a dog note that it’s helped them to spend more time outside and even lose some weight. Even if you aren’t trying to make changes to your physique, regular cardiovascular activity can help you to have more energy and improve your overall health and wellness.
2. Dogs can help reduce risk of heart attack and heart disease
The American Heart Association concluded a study in 2013 that explored the relationship between cardiovascular disease and those who owned a furry friend. A group of 182,000 heart attack survivors were interviewed—only 6% of them owned a dog. The study also explored if living alone with a dog made any difference compared to living alone without a pet. It turns out that individuals have a 33% better chance at surviving a cardiac event if they own a dog.
3. Dogs can help reduce triglyceride levels
Medical professionals have found that dog owners tend to have lower levels of triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, compared to non-pet owners. Typically, a person’s diet, BMI, or whether they smoke can make an impact, but in the group of individuals they studied, none of these were factors that contributed to the change. However, at this time, it’s unclear exactly why owning a dog can influence one’s triglyceride levels.
4. Dogs can help reduce cholesterol levels
Perhaps the simple act of playing outside or going for a walk with your dog is enough to make a radical change in your cholesterol, as researchers can’t attribute people’s improved health to any other cause. Similarly to the lowering of triglycerides, it’s not clear why owning a dog makes such a huge impact on heart health, but study after study points to the same conclusion.
5. Dogs can help lower blood pressure levels naturally
In addition to encouraging people to get outside and integrate more physical activity into their lives, dogs have another unique way of positively impacting their owner’s health. Doctors have noticed that individuals who own dogs tend to naturally exhibit lower blood pressure levels. Many believe it’s related to the calming effect that dogs can have—after all, there’s nothing better than snuggling up with your four-legged best friend.
6. Dogs can help lower stress levels
Whether you’re worried about the financial impact of coronavirus or are concerned about your toddler’s most recent tantrum, life can be stressful! While many health professionals might point to stress reduction techniques like yoga or medication, owning a dog can be equally beneficial.
Pet ownership can top the list when it comes to ways to relax, making your pooch a valuable asset to your own mental health. “Sharing a few minutes with a pet will minimize anxiety and [lower] blood pressure and raise serotonin and dopamine rates, two neurochemicals that play a major role in relaxation and well-being,” shares Vikram Taragu, MD.
The simple act of being around your dog allows your stress hormones to subside, and while this might feel great momentarily, it’s also key to enjoying a longer and more healthy life. Researchers note time and time again that there’s a direct relationship between stress, illness, and survival rates of individuals across the world. If your mental health is interfering with your social life or prohibiting you from visiting public spaces, consider getting your dog certified as a therapy dog.
7. Dogs can help fight loneliness
Speaking of living alone, many people find that loneliness in adulthood is a very real challenge—and that’s not even taking into consideration social distancing from COVID-19. Owning a dog can help to change that, as taking your furry friend to the dog park or around the block for a walk can open up opportunities to meet new people.
One British study found that 4 out of 5 dog owners speak with others while they’re outside with their four-legged family members. Another group noted that among older adults who live alone, 36% of them reported fewer feelings of loneliness compared to their counterparts who had no animals at home.
Even if your canine companion doesn’t take you out of the home much, you can still enjoy a boost of oxytocin from a short snuggle session. “Owning a dog can help to aid the feelings of isolation and loneliness by just their mere presence and unconditional love,” describes Christie Kederian, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Often, people find joy from pets because of that unconditional love and simplicity that are missing from some complex family dynamics and friendships,” she says.
8. Docs can help bolster your microbiome
It’s also been noted that owning a dog can help to boost your microbiome, as your immune system is naturally strengthened by sharing a home with a canine companion. Exposing yourself to the different bacteria that dogs naturally possess has a diversifying effect on your internal flora. While at first it sounds counterintuitive, owning a dog may even help children with allergies and asthmatic symptoms in the same way.
Keeping the whole family healthy, pets included
Getting a dog is a long-term commitment, and if you’ve been on the fence, think about how many areas of your life can be dramatically bettered by bringing home a four-legged friend. But keep in mind that dog ownership isn’t simply about buying dog food every so often. Pet ownership involves time and requires a true commitment to the animal. It’s vital that you keep your dog healthy and safe. And if you do find your dog needs medication, don’t forget that SingleCare can help you to save up to 80% on pet meds at over 35,000 pharmacies nationwide—for the whole family, even your pup.