We already know why dogs are great pets—they’re loving, playful, funny, and cuddly. They’re also hard workers that help us hunt and protect us from danger. But what might not be so obvious is that dogs keep us healthy too. Here we’ll look at 5 key ways having is dog is good for our physical and mental well-being.
1. Dogs keep us active.
Dog owners tend to have lifestyles that keep them fit. Studies have shown that moderate exercise can confer substantial health benefits. Walking for even a half-hour a day can help you improve muscle tone, control obesity, reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, improve mental clarity, and even add years to your life. So that morning walk, evening Frisbee toss, or weekend hike with your dog isn’t just play—it’s actively improving your physical health.
2. Dogs improve heart health.
In clinical studies, pet owners tend to have lower resting blood pressures than their non-pet-owning counterparts. Interestingly, dog owners who’ve suffered a heart attack also have better outcomes than heart attack survivors who don’t have a dog. And those who don’t have a dog were found to have a 20% greater chance of dying from a heath attack than those with a dog. While a direct causative relationship isn’t clear, a 2013 article from the journal Circulation suggests that the more active lifestyle that usually accompanies pet ownership is heart-healthy for humans.
3. Dogs reduce stress and improve mood.
It’s no secret that dogs have a talent for cheering us up, but did you know that they have this effect in a very real biochemical sense? Having a cuddly companion animal reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases levels of serotonin—a chemical in the brain that’s associated with happiness and feelings of well-being. Cuddling with your dog for a few minutes every day isn’t just fun—it quite literally changes your brain chemistry, helping you stay calmer and more centered when facing stressful situations. There’s also been some work suggesting that dog ownership is good for patients with mood disorders like depression—improving mood while reducing the number of physician visits.
4. Dogs boost immunity & fight allergies.
Having a dog around the house can also help boost your family’s immunity. Healthy human immune systems function best when exposed to small challenges from bacteria, viruses, pollens, dust, and other natural substances. Having a dog around is a great way to build our immunity through limited exposure to, for lack of a more elegant term, dirt. These limited exposures help our immune systems “learn” how best to respond to invading organisms or environmental exposures, so we’re not caught helpless when a more serious bug comes around.
5. Dogs can even help detect disease.
At the frontiers of the dog-to-human connection is the idea that some dogs can even detect hidden disease in people. Because dogs are particularly sensitive to even minute changes in their environment, primarily though their sense of smell, some can even detect hidden disease states in their owners. Dogs have been known to “sniff out” certain cancers in their owners, cued by subtle changes in smell related to chemicals in the sweat or urine or their owners. Other dogs can detect sudden changes in our bodies before we can. Seizure dogs can detect an impending epileptic episode in their owners before it occurs. Other dogs can even detect abnormal blood sugar levels in diabetic owners. It’s clear that we’re only beginning to learn all the ways that dogs help us live better lives.
So, the next time you give your pup a cuddle, be sure to say thanks for all the ways they keep you healthy!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.