The Health Benefits of Owning a Dog

Posted by Jackie Ly on

girl running to catch up with her dog

Living life with an adorable pooch is indeed fun, exciting, and relaxing. Dog lovers know that life is better with a dog. If you’re a new dog owner, you may even start to notice that something has improved in you since you started living with a pet.

You might wonder, are these improvements just in your mind, or does owning a dog really bring some health benefits?

Health benefits of owning a dog

They encourage you to move around

Dogs frequently need to run and play in order to be healthy and active, which requires your participation as well. Even if you don't think jogging or running with your dog is a proper exercise, this leisure time, like throwing and chasing a ball (because they didn’t really bring it back to you) is still beneficial to your health.

Compared to non-dog owners, dog owners are nearly four times more likely to achieve daily physical activity guidelines according to a 2019 British research. Another study from Western Canada found out that people who regularly walk their dog get around 300 minutes of activity a week compared to non-dog owners who only get about half as much.

Overall, many dog owners report that having a dog has encouraged them to spend more time outside and even helped them slim down. Playing with and training your dog lets you move around too.

Even if you are not attempting to change your physique, engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise may give you more energy and enhance your general health and wellbeing.

They are good for the heart

Dogs can help reduce risk of heart attack and heart disease. 

A study in the connection between dog owners and cardiovascular disease was conducted by the American Heart Association in 2013. They found that nearly 182,000 people were recorded to have had a heart attack, with almost 6% being dog owners.

Researchers found that for dog owners, the risk of death for heart attack patients living alone after hospitalisation was 33% lower compared to non-dog owners. The reason is believed to be the increase in physical activity and the decreased depression and loneliness.

More importantly, they help reduce stress and cholesterol levels and make you happier (discussed in the next sections), which are good for the heart.

They help reduce stress

Owning a dog may be just as good as using stress-reduction methods like yoga or medication. Owning a pet can rank first on the list of methods to relax, making your dog an essential part of your mental health.

According to experts, spending a few minutes with a pet reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and increases levels of serotonin and dopamine– two neurochemicals vital to relaxation and wellbeing.

Being around your dog allows your stress hormones to subside, and that’s essential to living a longer and more healthy life. 

They help reduce cholesterol levels

Playing outside or going for a walk with your dog is enough to make a substantial change in your cholesterol. 

Though there are still no solid findings as to why owning a dog greatly improves heart health, increased physical activity and reduced stress levels are attributed as the most reasonable reasons.

They help reduce triglyceride levels

According to research conducted by medical specialists, dog owners often have lower levels of triglycerides– a type of fat found in the blood–  than non-pet owners.

Normally, factors like a person's diet, BMI, or whether or not they smoke can have an impact, but in the group of people they studied, none of these things played a part in the change. 

Maybe other factors are at play, such as living with a dog prompts them to stay active and live a healthier lifestyle, especially if their pooch is stubborn and needs more training and socialisation.

They help lower blood pressure levels

Aside from encouraging their fur parents to move around and walk outside, dogs have another way of improving their owner’s health.

Doctors have observed that people who own dogs often have naturally reduced blood pressure levels. Many people think it has to do with the relaxing impact that dogs may have– after all, there’s nothing better than cuddling with your adorable pooch!

They strengthen your immune system

It’s also believed that having a dog helps improve your microbiome since living with them naturally strengthens your immune system. That’s because your internal flora is exposed to different bacteria that dogs naturally possess. 

While it may sound bad at first, eventually you may find it helpful– owning a dog can benefit kids with asthma and allergy issues. Still, there are hypoallergenic dog breeds you can choose from.

They help seniors with cognitive function and social interaction

Studies centred on the effects of dogs to seniors have found many positive results. One is that seniors with mental illnesses in long-term care benefit mentally from pet therapy. 

Another one is how pet therapy helped lessen agitated behaviours in seniors suffering from dementia and how their social interactions were improved. 

Service dogs help people with disabilities

48% of service dogs were trained for persons with mobility disability, 19% for veterans with PTSD, and 23% for people with autism, according to Assistance Dogs International. The other 9% of service dogs were trained for people with diabetes, seizures, psychiatric support, and medical alert services. 

Recently, service dogs have been taught to assist Alzheimer's patients and offer companionship as well as search and rescue tracking in case their patients get lost. This helps in keeping their owner closeby in congested places and public places.

They make you feel less alone

Dogs are there for you when people can’t.They give you unwavering affection, emotional support, and warm cuddles that alleviate social isolation. A brief Australian research found that having a dog lessens loneliness.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute conducted a national survey among pet owners and non-pet owners and found that 85% of respondents agreed that spending time with dogs helps people feel less lonely. Most people feel that interactions between people and their pets can alleviate social isolation.

How to stay healthy around pets

Pets indeed provide us lots of health benefits, but we also have to do our due diligence. They are still a different species from us and bring bacteria that we’re not immune of. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to distance yourself from them. This is even a way to get closer to them– stay healthy so both of you are safe for each other.

Keep your pet healthy

Providing regular, lifelong veterinarian care is crucial for the wellbeing of your pet. A healthy pet requires regular veterinarian appointments. Always consult your pet's veterinarian for advice on how to maintain your pet's health.

Give them healthy food, clean bedding, fresh water, and lots of exercise. Continue with the vaccinations, deworming, and flea and tick prevention shots.

Maintain good pet hygiene

  • Wash hands - Always wash your hands after playing with, feeding, or cleaning up after your pet to help minimise the chance of getting sick from germs that they carry.
  • Keep their belongings clean and away from the food prep area - Keep pets and their items out of the kitchen and disinfect pet houses and items outside the house when possible. Never clean supplies in the kitchen sink, food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink. You don't even have to touch a pet to get a disease from their germs because surfaces in your home might get contaminated.
  • Teach family members how to interact with pets

    Children can learn compassion and responsibility from living with pets, but to guarantee the safety of both, monitor your children around animals, especially if they’re under the age of 5.

    Teach your kids to be gentle and to respect boundaries when playing with your dog, and to wash their hands right after playing with pets or any pet belongings (cages, beds, food or water dishes).

    Indeed, the time you spend with your dog is not only fun and exciting but also good for your health. They help improve your life– your physical well-being, your heart health, and your emotional health.

    Others think that only owners take care of their beloved dogs, but the truth is it's mutual: Dogs take care of their beloved owners too, and science confirms it.

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