The 20 Proven Health Benefits of Having a Dog
Alex Vicente • Updated on March 16, 2021 • 51 minutes read
Although you probably know having a dog has its advantages, you might not have known that dogs can impact your health.
I still remember the day I got my first dog — he came running toward me, wagging his tail the whole time. The bond between dogs and humans is strong, and it’s that bond that provides dog owners with the resulting health benefits.
If I hadn’t bonded with my first dog or worse — if I’d never met him — my life would be drastically different today. So, I’m excited to discuss the health benefits of having a dog and why you might want to consider getting one.
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One of the most advantageous benefits you can reap from just being a dog owner is improving your physical health. Believe it or not, there are a plethora of physical advantages that dog owners have over non-dog owners.
Dogs can truly help you turn your health around. Are you trying to lose weight? Want to lower your blood pressure? Believe it or not, having a dog can help. Check out the benefits you can enjoy as a dog owner.
1. You’ll be more fit and active
Chances are, if you’re a dog owner, you’re more active than those who don’t have a dog. If you take a 30-minute walk with your dog per day (or two 15-minute walks in the morning and evening), you’ll be more fit. Playing with your dog — even just a quick game of fetch — can also help you be more active.
In fact, when you walk your dog, you’re also improving your bones and the muscles around them, making them stronger. It’s also an excellent opportunity to soak in some vitamin D from the sun.
Depending where you live, you can even take an exercise class with your pup and work out with her. For example, some yoga studios offer classes for you and your dog to do together.
2. Your heart health could improve.
One of the most impressive physical benefits of having a dog is the effect on your heart health. Studies have found that people who have dogs are more likely to survive a heart attack or stroke. In general, pet owners are also less likely to be killed by cardiac diseases like heart failure.
In one study, heart failure patients who spent time with dogs every day experienced lower anxiety levels and blood pressure rates.
Having a dog might also help you lower your cholesterol. Although scientists don’t know precisely why, dog owners have healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels when compared to those who don’t have a pup.
3. You could lose weight.
It’s a fact that dog owners are often more active and being more active could help you lose weight. Whether you’re doing a workout with your dog or simply going on a morning walk, you’re burning more calories than you might typically.
In addition, walking your dog can be a motivational tool for losing weight, too. Dogs love walks, and their excitement and happiness are an excellent way to motivate dog owners. Weight loss will feel less like a chore and more like a regular activity with your dog.
4. Your children might not develop allergies.
Having a dog in the house might prevent your children from developing allergies. Being around animals like dogs improves the immune system and can keep your kids healthy when they get older, too.
Researchers say the more amount of time children are exposed to pets when they’re young (around 1-2 years old), the less likely they’ll have pet allergies later. Kids who grew up around dogs (or cats) are also less likely to be allergic to ragweed, dust mites and grass.
5. You might not have to go to the doctor as often.
You might’ve heard the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but what about dogs? If you’re older — over 65, to be exact — you’re less likely to need medical help than those who don’t have a dog.
A 1990 study found that seniors who had pets sought medical help around 30% less than people who didn’t have a pet.
In addition to that, studies have found that dogs introduce more microorganisms into the home. This actually improves the human immune system. Research suggests that dog owners get sick less often, but when they get sick, it’s less severe.
6. You’ll be able to fight off injury and illness.
Having a dog could be lifesaving. Some canines can actually sniff out certain cancers, such as kidney, prostate, and bladder cancers, making it possible to catch the disease quickly.
Some dogs, referred to as service dogs, can help people who have illnesses or conditions that might prevent them from living life on their own terms. However, service dogs can help people feel independent again and even increase their mobility.
For example, some people with epilepsy have service dogs that can help alert their owners before they have a seizure, as well as find help if their owner does have a seizure. Those with Alzheimer’s or dementia often feel calmer when they have a dog.
Service dogs can benefit people living with a plethora of conditions, such as autism, diabetes, traumatic brain injury (TBI), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and cancer.
7. You’ll be able to manage your blood pressure easier.
So how exactly does that work? Well, even dog owners need to keep their weight and exercise habits in check. But studies show that having a dog can reduce both blood pressure and heart rates.
One study, in particular, found that blood pressure dropped by 10% after petting a dog for just 15-30 minutes.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and having a dog can improve your mentality, too. Here are a few ways owning a dog can benefit your mental health.
8. You’ll be able to fight off depression and anxiety.
If you’re dealing with or recovering from depression or anxiety, your dog can help. Research suggests that talking to your dog or simply taking a few minutes to pet your dog can help you feel calmer and more at ease.
Having a dog is also a big responsibility, so taking care of your pet can also help you feel better about how you’re living your life. Even if you’re depressed, your dog can encourage you to get out of bed to take care of them.
For example, people living with AIDS are not as likely to be depressed if they have a dog.
9. You’ll be in a better mood.
Dogs are a great mood booster. Sitting with your dog and showing him some love can make you feel calmer and more relaxed. This is because spending time with your pup causes your body to go through physical changes.
Serotonin, the chemical that makes you feel happy, increases while cortisol, a stress-causing hormone, decreases. Playing with a dog can also increase dopamine, which makes you feel relaxed and comfortable.
Surprisingly, having a dog can also improve your social life in a couple of ways. From connecting to others, you’ll be glad you’re a dog owner.
10. You can make more friends.
Having a dog can be a good talking point when you’re meeting new people. Dog owners usually enjoy talking to other dog owners, so your pet just might be the perfect topic of conversation. Soon, you’ll make more social connections than you ever thought possible, just by talking to others who are like-minded.
If you take your dog on a walk or to the dog park, that’s also a perfect opportunity to chat with fellow dog owners and socialize while your dog gets some necessary exercise.
11. Loneliness will be on the backburner.
In 2020, there are hundreds of places for you and your pup to frequent together. Places you might typically visit alone — the park, dog-friendly restaurants, outdoor concerts, the lake, or even nearby hiking trails — are also viable options for you and your dog to enjoy together. Having a dog can put any loneliness you might feel on the backburner.
12. You’ll get a great companion.
Dogs are referred to as “man’s best friend” for a reason. Having a dog means you’ll get a great companion — one who will love you unconditionally.
Dogs are incredibly friendly, and as such, they love both canine and human company.
13. You can socialize with those who might need it.
In a similar vein, some people — like those in the hospital, nursing homes, or veteran facilities — are lonely but don’t have the means to take care of a dog of their own. That’s where you and your pet come in. You’ll be able to build on your social life while improving the social lives of others, too. The majority of these places actively look for volunteers, so it’s just a matter of choosing somewhere you know you’d like to spend some time.
There are even some libraries that have a “reading to Rover” program in which the local children practice reading by reading books to a dog. The opportunities here are almost endless.
14. Social media is also there to offer support.
Dog owners love talking to other dog owners, and on social media platforms, it’s no different. There are tons of dog forums online, some even specified by breed. Two big forums you can connect and post on include Dog Forum and Dogsey.
Of course, there are also Facebook groups for dog owners, Twitter and Instagram hashtags and pages, and of course, there’s Reddit. Reddit has specific subreddit groups for dog owners organized by breeds and subjects. Here are a few of the best dog subreddits, just to name a few:
- r/dogs: This is the perfect place to post all things dogs, whether you’re asking a question, learning about dogs, or sharing information.
- r/WiggleButts: This one is dedicated to breeds like miniature American shepherds, Aussies, and Aussie mixes.
- r/Dogtraining: This forum is specifically for information and discussion on two essential topics: dog training and behavior.
- r/puppysmiles: Simply put, this is a place to post pictures of your smiling puppy.
- r/BostonTerrier: This is another example of a breed-specific subreddit, as this one’s totally dedicated to Boston terriers.
One of the most advantageous benefits of having a dog is the stress relief they can bring their owners. When you spend time with your dog, your oxytocin levels rise. Oxytocin is a hormone that decreases fear and anxiety while promoting trust, which can make you less stressed. However, that’s not the only way dogs relieve your stress.
15. They’ll make you laugh.
It’s a known fact that laughter can decrease tension and relieve your stress response. Laughter also has both short and long-term benefits. In the short-term, it can soothe anxiety, stimulate organs, and reduce your stress response. Over the long-term, laughing can relieve pain, be a mood booster, and even improve your immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Laughter really is the best medicine, and dogs are great for a good laugh. Whether it’s general tomfoolery or an “America’s Funniest Home Videos”-worthy moment, a dog can have you in peals of laughter in no time.
16. They’ll increase your self-esteem.
Believe it or not, when you have good self-esteem, that contributes to your overall stress levels by decreasing them. Dog owners are often less anxious and less fearful. Plus, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that among the positive consequences of pet ownership, increased self-esteem among pet owners stands out.
So, if you want to feel better about yourself, your pup might be the answer.
17. They can give you some peace of mind.
Dogs are more than just a friendly face; they can actually be an efficient security system. Research suggests burglars are discouraged by the sound of a barking dog. Having a dog that makes its presence known is enough to dissuade people from entering your residence without permission, which can help give you peace of mind and increase your sense of security.
18. They satisfy the human need for touch.
Did you know physical touch decreases stress levels? It’s true: along with building trust and boosting the immune system, physical contact is a great stress reliever. Not only do you reap the benefits when you pet your dog, but they also enjoy the love and affection of a good petting session.
Give Your Life Meaning
It’s clear that dogs have a very positive effect on human health, from physical effects to promoting mental health. But dogs can also give your life meaning and purpose. In other words, dogs often give us a reason to get up in the morning and live our best life.
19. Your quality of life can improve.
Dogs can also give people a better quality of life. If you’re recovering from a traumatic event — like a stroke or a heart attack — or an illness, dogs can make you feel better. You can even train your dog to understand helpful commands.
20. You’ll have more reasons to get up in the morning.
Having a dog adds routine and structure to your day, which can give it more meaning. Having a routine can keep you relaxed and happy. Dogs can boost your morale, too.
This is one of the reasons that dog training programs are becoming so prevalent in the United States. These programs often pair unwanted or abused dogs with prison inmates to encourage a healthy, positive bond. Due to all the health benefits dogs have to offer their owners, these programs have yielded decreased depression, anxiety, and incidents of aggression while giving prison inmates a distinct sense of purpose. Although 50% of inmates end up going back to prison after their release, that figure drops to 17% for inmates who went through the Leader Dog Program, according to Life as a Human magazine.
The Bottom Line?
There’s a good reason there are about 89.7 million dogs living with their humans in the U.S. alone.
Dogs are more than a cute, fluffy face — they’re actually beneficial to your health and well-being. Having a dog encourages you to be more active, which in turn improves your heart health, blood pressure, injuries, and illness. And it’s all backed by research.
Similarly, these furry animals also improve your mental health. Having a dog can help fight depression and anxiety, relieve stress, improve your mood and morale, as well as improve your social life by fostering powerful social connections.
As the years go by, we’ll undoubtedly see more research and studies tailored to the advantages of owning a dog. For now, the current research is enough to show the undeniable benefits of having a loyal, lifelong companion like a dog.
It doesn’t matter what breed you choose, how old the dog is, or what gender your dog is. The bottom line is that if you’re a dog owner, you’re reaping countless benefits that non-pet owners can’t relate to.