18 ways your dog is improving your health

As if you need any more reasons to LOVE sharing your life with your dog, but if you’re reticent about getting a dog, or live with someone who needs some convincing. Let them know its official dogs are good for your health.


“We found that pet owners, on average, were better off than non-owners, especially when they have a higher-quality relationship with their pets,” says pet researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD. He’s a professor of psychology at Miami University. “What [makes] a meaningful relationship varies from person to person.”

For some active people, that includes playing ball or Frisbee in the park. For others who can’t get outside, just petting your dog can help you feel connected.


People with dogs are generally happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who don’t have dogs or pets. They also visit the doctor less often for minor problems.

1) Dogs are natural mood enhancers

It only takes a few minutes with your dog for you to feel less stressed, Scientists have shown that the connection you feel with your dog sets off the LOVE hormone serotonin is increased. Serotonin is secreted when you have a feeling of wellbeing.


2) Stress Soothers

Patting your dog feels good. It can lower your blood pressure, helps your body release a relaxation hormone, and cuts down on levels of a stress hormone.

It also soothes your pet, says Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University.

3) They lower your blood pressure

In one study of 240 married couples, pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates during test than people who did not own a pet. That held true whether they were at rest or undergoing stress tests.


4) Pet owners have been shown to have lower cholesterol

Researchers have noted lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in people who own pets compared to people who don’t. If you have a dog, those daily walks are helping to keep your cholesterol in check, says Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. Plus, a survey by the Australian National Heart Foundation revealed that people who own pets, especially men, tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.


5) They’re good for your heart

Another study showed that dog owners had a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack. Overall, pet owners have a lower risk of dying from any cardiac disease, including heart failure.

6) Monitor health changes

Dogs are very sensitive to their owners’ behavior, which can be helpful for those who suffer from diabetes. Some animals can sense plummeting blood sugar levels before their owners can. “When diabetics get low blood sugar they get ketoacidosis (when they can’t use sugar as a fuel source), which changes the smell of their breath, and trained dogs can pick up on that scent change,” explains Christopher Buckley, director of veterinary medicine at the Human Society of West Michigan in Kalamazoo. “It’s not in the innate ability of every dog, but they can be trained to do that.” Need a furry minder? There are several organizations that specifically train dogs to aid diabetics, including Early Alert Canines, Dogs4Diabetics, and Dogs Assisting Diabetics

dogshelpingpeople7) Pets ease chronic pain

Having a dog around the house can help distract from chronic pain. “Patting your dog releases endorphins—the same hormones that give a runner’s high—and they are powerful pain relievers,” says Johnson. “That’s been demonstrated in hospitalized patients who had a visit from an animal and reported less pain simply from one visit.” In fact, Loyola University Chicago researchers found that people who underwent joint replacement surgery used less pain medication when they received pet therapy. And one American Journal of Critical Care study found that patients hospitalized for heart failure had improved cardio functioning when visited by a dog. The simple task of caring for a pet can also be a positive distraction for people in pain.


8) Prevent allergies, hay fever, eczema and colds in kids

If you had a pet as a kid, you may be in luck. This one may sound counterintuitive, however, in a study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, children who were exposed to pets before they were six months old were less likely to develop allergic diseases (including dust, grass and pet allergies), hay fever, and eczema as they got older.

“In the first year of life, babies who are exposed to dogs or cats in the household are more likely not to have allergies, asthma, and fewer upper respiratory infections,” says Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. “If exposed at an early age to dander and allergens, we may be less reactive to them over time.” And kids who grow up around dogs, farm animals, or cats typically have stronger immune systems and a reduced risk of developing asthma or eczema.

Turns out, simply having a dog around your home may also lessen your kids’ chances of getting the common cold. According to new research from the University of California, San Francisco. In a study of mice, researchers found that the house dust from homes with dogs worked to protect against a common cold strain, the respiratory syncytial virus.

What excited researchers is that this work may help explain why pet ownership has been associated with protection against childhood asthma in the past. Their thought process is as follows: exposure to animals early in life helps “train” the immune system, which plays an integral part in asthma development. In short, there is reason to believe that germs, such as those associated with dogs, may be good for children’s health under certain circumstances.


9) They’ll help you overcome depression 

Therapists have been known to prescribe a pet as a way of dealing with and recovering from depression. No one loves you more unconditionally than your dog. Your dog will listen to you talk for as long as you like. Patting a dog (or a cat) has a calming effect. And taking care of a pet, walking with it, grooming it, playing with it, aids you to get out of your own head and helps you feel better about the way you spend your time.

A study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and a large review of studies by the British Psychological Society found that dogs especially promote therapeutic and psychological wellbeing. “The calming presence and the social bond that pets bring can be very powerful,” says Dr. Christenson. “Animals give something to focus on instead of the negative thoughts a depressed person is prone to have. When a pet pays attention to you, they’re giving you unconditional love and acceptance.”

 10) Anxiety

For people with all forms of anxiety, having a dog may be an important coping mechanism. This is especially true in times of crisis. A study out of the Medical College of Virginia found that for hospitalized patients with mental health issues, therapy with animals significantly reduced anxiety levels more than conventional recreational therapy sessions.

Simply being in the same room as your dog can have a calming effect. A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we look at our dog, which brings feelings of joy. Research with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers have witnessed the powerful effects of animals. One veteran couldn’t leave his home without his wife until a dog was placed with him and in less than a week he was able to go around his town.



11) Rehabilitation

In the setting of a severe illness or prolonged hospitalization, therapy dogs can be integral in the process of rehabilitation. A review of the literature looking at the function of service dogs proved that dogs can assist people with various disabilities in performing everyday activities, thereby significantly reducing their dependence on others


12) Loneliness

Dogs function as important companions and family members, but certain groups may benefit more than others. The elderly, particularly those in residential care facilities, often become socially isolated once separated from immediate family. Researchers in Australia have found that dogs improved the well-being of residents by promoting their capacity to build relationships


13) Boost your self-esteem

Dogs are completely non-judgmental, they don’t have an agenda, they take you at face value, and they don’t care what you look like or how you behave, they love unconditionally, and that boots self-esteem, says Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. “Confidence can be improved by the fact that dogs love you no matter what.” Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that pet owners had higher self-esteem, as well as feelings of belonging and meaningful existence than non-owners.


14) Social Magnets

Pets, especially dogs, can help you connect with other people. People feel more comfortable to start talking to someone walking down the street if they have a dog. Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University says. “It’s an acceptable interaction that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”

People who use wheelchairs say that other people make eye contact with them more often and ask if they can be of help when they’re with their dogs, Beck says.

 15) Pets improve relationships

Young adults with a deep bond to their pets felt more connected in their relationships and to their communities than those who did not have animals in a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science. They were more likely to take on leadership roles and tended to be more confident and empathetic; Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine says it’s reasonable to believe that this would be the case with older adults as well.


16) Pets bring your family closer together

Whether you make your kids take turns walking the dog or it’s always your job to feed the cat, research has proven having a pet is good for the whole family. “Pets can be a very important bridge between family members,” says Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. “Often grandchildren have a hard time talking to a grandparent, so pets can be a natural bridge, providing a convenient and easy topic of conversation.” Additionally, children often have their first death experience through animals, which is a teachable moment. “Pets can provide the ultimate learning experience, kids learn how to treat others with kindness and caring, and they teach responsibility,” Johnson explains.


 17) Activity

Turns out walking the dog may be important for the health of the walker as well as the dog. Studies from the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine have shown that children with dogs spend more time doing moderate to vigorous activity than those without dogs, and adults with dogs walk on average almost twice as much as adults without dogs

Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, co-author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, led a study at the University that found that dog walkers improved their fitness more than people who walked with other people. A separate study found that dog owners walked 300 minutes a week on average, while people who didn’t own dogs walked just 168 minutes a week. And a study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that not only did dog owners walk more than non-owners, they were also 54% more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.

AND the sun gives you an extra dose of vitamin D if you’re walking during the day light hours.


 18) Doctors

With all of these specific health benefits, could dogs keep you away from the doctor altogether? A national survey out of Australia found that dog and cat owners made fewer annual doctor visits and generally had significantly lower use of general practitioner services.


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