If you are lucky enough to call a canine a member of the family, then you already know the many benefits of having a dog. Unconditional love, a playful spirit to lift your mood on a rainy day, a faithful fellow adventurer, a loyal and trusted friend, and so much more.
However, what you may not have realized was that your furry friend may actually be making you healthier. In fact, there has been a great deal of research that suggests dogs may offer their human companions a variety of real health benefits.
Want to learn more? This article will explore how dogs can improve our physical, mental, and even social wellbeing. And for the skeptics out there, we have included links to the research so that you can learn even more.
Dogs can play a positive role in our physical wellness in a variety of ways. Research has shown, one of the most noted health benefits of having a dog is a decrease in risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that time spent with dogs can lower blood pressure and heart rates. In addition, some research shows that dogs improve rehabilitation efforts after major cardiovascular events.
On another positive note related to heart health, research on the impact of therapy dogs has confirmed that our furry friends lower stress levels. In fact, as one study showed, their calming effect may be even more pronounced than interacting with a supportive friend during a time of need.
Another way that dogs help us physically is by getting us more active. Dog owners tend to spend more time walking and engaging in other playful activities, helping us lead more active lifestyles. Since engaging in regular exercise is an important factor in reducing other health risks, this aspect of dog ownership may be improving our health in many indirect ways.
For example, dog ownership is associated with lower levels of obesity, a result that has been shown to be true among people of all ages. After all, one of the great pleasures in life that can get a teenager off the couch, away from the video games, and out for some fresh air and physical activity is the playful spirit of a dog. No batteries required!
Speaking of dogs and kids, one of the more interesting findings on canines and human health has to do with our immune system. Turns out, multiple studies have shown that when infants and small children share a home with a dog, it decreases their chances of developing both allergies and asthma later in life. A pretty nice perk of having a pet!
Many of us who have a dog in our lives already suspect that our mental and emotional lives are improved by their presence. We often turn to them for moral support after a difficult day at work or pull them in close when we are feeling down. However, the mental health benefits of dog ownership go beyond the anecdotal. Indeed, scientific researchers have documented their contributions to human mental health in a few ways.
Clinical depression is a mental condition that affects as many as 17 million American adults annually, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. As a serious medical condition, of course, dogs do not offer a complete cure, nor is dog ownership a substitute for the help of mental health professionals. That being said, dog ownership and time spent with dogs has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression in a variety of settings and age groups.
Studies of therapy dogs and senior populations have shown that dogs may even help seniors with dementia. This therapy seems to help keep seniors stay more engaged with therapies, improve social relations with other residents and staff, and decrease the progression of withdrawal into themselves that many patients with dementia experience.
Of course, our canine companions play a vital role as service and emotional support dogs in the lives of many disabled Americans. They help many people remain independent by performing special tasks and providing a sense of safety on a daily basis. Dogs can also help make the world a safer place for the blind and deaf and can predict seizures, making life easier for those with epilepsy. And they may help some children with autism develop social skills and improve their communication.
Feelings of social isolation are more common than ever in the modern world. Despite the fact that many of us are connected more frequently to larger circles of friends thanks to ever-present social media technology, the feelings of disconnection and loneliness are on the rise. Research has shown that both dog ownership and time spent with therapy dogs reduce feelings of social isolation.
In addition, dogs seem to facilitate interactions between people, acting as a kind of non-intoxicating social lubricant. Researchers speculate that some of this effect is likely due to the lower levels of stress people feel around dogs, potentially making it easier to open up to other people around dogs.
These results go beyond the interactions of individuals. In fact, higher rates of dog ownership have been linked to a stronger sense of community in several studies. So, encouraging dog ownership on a larger scale may even improve our neighborhoods!
Let’s take it even one step further. Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that the health benefits of dog ownership are significant enough to be considered a form of preventative healthcare. Some have even suggested that theses aggregate benefits add up to major annual savings in national healthcare costs and that the promotion of responsible dog ownership and dog walking, in particular, offers large-scale benefits to human health.
Take a moment now to thank your canine companion for the health perks! And, remember the next time you have to take her to the vet, or soothe him during a thunderstorm, that the relationship is two-sided. Although most dog lovers already know that these furry friends are totally worth the occasional hassle, now we have even more reasons to celebrate their companionship!
Be sure to always keep your dog happy and healthy.
Looking for more ways to keep your pup happy and healthy? Consider investing in a dog insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance.1 Our dog insurance policies may be worth considering. Get your free quote today.