Is Petting Your Dog Good for You? 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Owning a Dog
Ask any dog owner and they’ll tell you that they’re always in a better mood when they’re with their pet. The unconditional love our dogs provide and the excitement they show at our sheer presence every day is enough to make you feel good and put a smile on your face.
But then there’s the way they seem to know when you’re feeling sad, sick, or in pain. The way they make you get out every day to exercise and force you to socialize even when you may not be up for it. And the underlying positive impacts they’re having on your health are significant too.
There’s simply no denying it. Owning a dog comes with many health benefits!
Most dog owners would agree they feel happier and healthier, and there’s lots of research out there to back it up and explain why. Is petting your dog good for you? You bet! And there’s a whole list of other surprising health benefits of owning a dog.
1. Decrease your risk for heart disease
Did you know that your dog is probably having a positive impact on your overall heart health? Many research studies looking at heart health and dog ownership show a positive correlation between the two.
People who own dogs tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those without dogs. These are the fats in our body that put you at a higher risk for stroke and heart disease. What’s interesting is that beyond dog ownership, the association can’t be contributed to things like diet, exercise lifestyle choices, or overall BMI.
Dog owners also have a lower blood pressure than non-owners. Experts suspect this is because of the soothing effects dogs have on their owners and the extra exercise dog owners get over non-dog owners, even if it is just a leisurely daily walk.
There are also many studies that show a drop in blood pressure when people pet dogs. This is one of the many reasons therapy dogs and hospital dogs are a wonderful resource for people who are chronically ill.
2. Experience less stress
Having a dog in your life might mean you are less stressed, or that stress doesn’t affect your body as negatively as those without dogs. People who own a dog have shown less reactivity to stress. Their blood pressure and heart rate return to normal more quickly when exposed to stress triggers than those who do not have dogs.
With these facts in mind, more and more workplaces are allowing people to bring their dogs to work. Having dogs in the office has an overall positive effect on all employees. Research and polls show that when owners can bring their pets to work, they experience less overall stress.
What’s more, even the non-dog owners are benefiting. They may opt to walk a co-worker’s dog around the block during their break instead of sitting around which contributes to a more positive mood and a healthier mindset.
One workplace, reported by NPR, showed that allowing dogs in the office lead to an above-average industry tenure rate. Meaning people stayed at the job longer, perhaps because their job satisfaction was greater and their overall stress levels were lower in the presence of dogs.
3. You’ll be happier and less depressed
It’s not just lower stress levels that are a health benefit of dogs. People who own dogs are less likely to experience depression and report overall higher levels of happiness. This is because petting your dog decreases anxiety and stress hormones and increases the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and prolactin in your brain
Having a dog around also reduces your feelings of isolation and loneliness, forces you to have a routine, and can help owners out of depressive episodes because of their furry companion’s needs for exercise and care. All these components have a positive effect on combating and keeping depression at bay.
Currently, researchers are exploring and better understanding the role that pets—and dogs specifically—can play in mental health treatment.
Related Reading: How to Tell if your Dog is Happy?
4. Immune System Boost
Living with a dog has a positive impact on your overall immune function and the likelihood of developing allergies. Research shows that newborns who spend the first year of their life around a dog have a significantly lower risk of developing seasonal allergies, asthma, and eczema than children who don’t spend time around dogs.
It’s also true that people who own dogs tend to get sick less often and are less likely to visit the doctor for non-serious issues than those without dogs. This may be because of the constant exposure to different bacteria, time spent outside, and a greater sense of control in their lives.
Related Reading: Allergies in Dogs, How to Introduce your Dog to your Baby
5. Positive impact on children
A 2017 study looked at the positive impacts pet attachment has on children between the ages of 7 and 12. Children who have a strong attachment to their pet, particularly dogs, show greater compassion and humane treatment toward animals, lower levels of aggression, better well-being, and a capability of secure attachment which may lead to more positive relationships throughout their lives.
Another study identified the positive impact pet ownership had on children’s social skills, social play, and social network. It also talked about the way pets help children develop empathy and the relationship between pet ownership and cognitive and educational benefits.
Might I add the way I’ve seen our dogs have a positive impact on my 3-year-old? Our lab, in particular, is always available for a game of hide-and-seek, to be a patient at her pretend vet office, or to be dressed up ‘fancy’ for a tea party or ball. Every day I see the positive social effects and opportunities for empathy that our dogs provide my daughter.
6. Support for people with disease and disabilities
When talking about the health benefits of owning a dog, we can’t leave out all of the incredible service and support dogs out there. The intelligence of canines is harnessed to help people with a variety of different disabilities and diseases.
A few types of assistance dogs include seeing eye dogs, hearing dogs, diabetic alert dogs, mobility assistance dogs, seizure response dogs, autism support dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and allergy detection dogs. The role that these dogs play in the lives of the people they serve is undoubtedly a health benefit.
So, is petting your dog good for you?
With all of the research showing the health benefits of owning a dog, there’s no doubt that petting your dog is good for you. Most acutely, when you pet your dog you benefit from an immediate drop in blood pressure, reduction of stress hormones, an increase in oxytocin, and increased immune response.
In the name of health, go give your dog a little extra love today. It’s good for you both 😊
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