Sure Fido is always excited to greet you at the door and constantly brings a smile to your face, but are there truly scientific-based health benefits to owning a dog? Absolutely.
When it comes to therapeutic companionship as well as their ability to aid with everything from anxiety to hearing loss and compromised immunity, canines have proven to boost their owner’s health in even the most surprising ways.
Dogs are playful creatures; image source: zastavki.com
Dogs Motivate You to Exercise
Owning a dog keeps you active, plain and simple. Experts recommend dogs (and humans) get around 30 minutes of exercise a day. Owning a dog means going for walks, hiking together, playing fetch, even jogging together potentially.
An energetic pup is just the motivation you need to get out and get moving. Regular fitness not only strengthens you and your dog’s bones, muscles, and brains, but it promotes a healthy weight which can add years to both your lives. For older adults specifically, dogs proved in a 2016 study to encourage enough walking and exercise to result in fewer trips to the doctor and fewer limitations on daily activities.
Dogs Help Alleviate Stress & Anxiety
Does snuggling up and petting your favorite pooch really benefit your mental wellness? Definitely. Research has shown that in specific times of stress where the body’s response is to produce more cortisol to cope, the presence of a furry friend actually lowered blood pressure and reduced heart rate while boosting feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin.
A 2015 study revealed that over half of all dog owners got to know their neighbors as a result of owning a pet too, which combats social isolation and anxiety, and promotes feelings of attachment and community. Some of the best dog breeds for anxiety include smaller, docile breeds like Boston Terriers, Malteses, Pugs, and Shih Tzus.
Dogs Can Provide Medical Service
In addition to companionship, canines generate a sense of security and safety, especially for older adults. Breeds like Corgis and Lhasa Apsos are instinctually observant and make good watch dogs that can alert you to visitors and noises, while more highly trained therapy dogs can provide assistance and service to those who are hard of hearing, who have visual impairment, autism, or who even experience seizures.
For a senior with hearing loss for example, a trained dog can physically get their attention if they hear an alarm, a doorbell, a phone ringing, or smell smoke. For a patient with epilepsy, a therapy dog can sense when seizure activity is imminent and warn their owner so they can take preventative action.
Dogs Can Protect Against Allergies
A new 2017 study illustrates how pet exposure in childhood actually reduces a child’s risk of developing allergies, asthma, and even obesity. Household pets, especially dogs, carry a variety of bacterial microbes around with them, 2 of which were found in this study to lower risk for allergic disease and obesity in kids. During pregnancy and then early infancy, it’s believed that these important microbes are transferred from dog to mother to infant, powering a healthy gut microbiome and establishing early immunity.
Dogs Help Give Life Meaning
A life filled with purpose and meaning generates goodwill and boosts overall health. Taking care of a dog on your own, or with your spouse or family, not only fosters an environment of shared responsibility and social interaction, but requires regular practice in selflessness and communication.
A surprising 2016 study revealed that dogs seem to process language similarly to humans, not only picking up on vocabulary, but intonation as well, and judging their own responses accordingly. Bottom line, dogs might experience morality as you do and become even more powerful companions than ever before.
It’s important to note that while the health benefits of owning a dog are numerous, it also comes with its own risks. Owners can experience debilitating falls when a dog is underfoot in the home or when you’re out walking your dog in inclement weather.
Young, energetic puppies can also cause undue stress during the training process, and associated anxiety about money when unexpected vet or boarding bills comes up can take its own toll on your mental wellness. If owning a dog isn’t in the cards for you, but you still want to reap some of the health benefits canine friendship offers, consider fostering a dog or volunteering at a local animal shelter.