Why Dogs Are Good for Your Health
If you’ve ever owned a dog, chances are you’re already very familiar with some of the benefits their presence can bring to your life.
They’ll wag their tail so hard when you get home that their whole body will wiggle. They’ll encourage you to get up and take a walk. They happily snuggle you when you’re sad or watching a Rom-com. There’s a reason dogs are called “man’s best friend”: dogs really share a special connection with their owners.
But besides the obvious ways in which dogs improve your life, what other health benefits can dogs provide? Let’s look at the actual science behind the benefits of owning a dog and determine all the health benefits they can provide their humans.
Dogs and Your Physical Wellness
Dogs will eagerly go on long walks with you, so it’s obvious that they can have some effect on your physical well-being. However, dogs can offer much more than an excuse to take a walk. They can even have long-term beneficial effects on your body.
Even the CDC acknowledges that animals are beneficial for the overall health of humans. Referencing multiple studies, the CDC notes that pets have helped owners decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol levels, and decrease triglycerides.
And these benefits are just the tip of the iceberg — they also note on the mental health benefits of pets, as well as the help they can provide in incentivizing healthy outdoor activities.
Of course, it’s also important to be aware of the health of your dog, as animals have the potential to spread diseases to humans — which are known as zoonotic diseases. Luckily, a well-cared-for dog has far more health benefits than health disadvantages.
So, as long as your dog visits a vet regularly, your chances of contacting a dog-to-human transferred disease is very low.
Dogs Are the Perfect Accountability Buddy
Your dog is almost always going to be excited for a walk. But exercising your dog isn’t always something you do just for them — you can get your own health benefits out of the experience.
Whether it’s walking, jogging, biking, or kayaking, your best friend will always be by your side. They work as the perfect companion for all your exercise goals.
It’s well known that dogs can boost your fitness, but what makes them the ideal accountability buddy?
As Time explained in a 2014 piece on pets and human health:
“Johnson—co-author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound—led a study at the University of Missouri 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.”
Plus, as the use of health technology has risen rapidly in the past few years, pet owners are able to better track their own healthcare milestones — monitoring everything from heart rate and overall stress levels to breathing and sleep patterns.
Now, instead of having just your dog bug you about going out and exercising, your smartwatch can beep at you, too — letting you know you’ve been sitting too long and it’s time to walk the pooch!
Dogs and Your Mental Health
As the CDC noted, dogs have more than just a physical effect on the body — they have a beneficial mental effect as well. Besides animals that are specially trained for emotional support or disability assistance, dogs in general can offer a plethora of mental health benefits.
Some of the most common mental health concerns today are anxiety and depression, and both are top public health concerns for both adults and children. Health officials such as the CDC argue that depression will become the second leading cause of disability by 2020, followed only by heart disease.
Additionally, depression and anxiety can affect more than a single person, as they both can have ripple effects across an entire community of people. They’re also commonly tied with socioeconomic status, such as poverty, race, LGBTQIA+ identity, and more.
So how do dogs help in the fight against mental illness? Their willingness to love unconditionally is certainly beneficially for those struggling with mental illness. Despite any feelings you have about yourself, your dog will eagerly show you that they love you, no matter what.
Additionally, because dogs are such good motivators to help you get exercise, they can help those struggling find the motivation to get up and walk around. Sometimes exercise can feel like an impossible task when you’re depressed, but dogs will help you find the motivation you need.
They can help break some of the awkward barriers that humans have created in public, social situations, making it easier for humans to strike up a conversation with each other while they greet the pup and talk about loving dogs.
Life with a dog is simply better!
Dog as Personal Therapists
Yet the mental health benefits of dogs can go much deeper than providing exercise and promoting socialization. Especially for well-trained dogs, they can offer much more to those that are suffering from trauma, injury, or other illnesses.
You often hear about specially trained dogs roaming the halls of children’s hospitals or retirement homes, offering snuggles, licks, and love. Dogs make exceptional therapists, and they’re certainly not going to judge you for any mistakes you’ve made in your life.
But it’s not just in retirement homes or children’s hospitals that dogs are being put to work as therapy animals; some researchers are now diving into in-patient substance abuse clinics as well.
With the rising opioid epidemic across the country, more and more people are seeking out treatment centers to try to aid them in their withdrawal process. It can be excruciatingly painful and often requires additional drugs such as bupropenmine to help patients get through the process.
With the assistance of therapy dogs, patients may be more comfortable when experiencing the pains of withdrawal and are more likely to open up with the counselors working with them.
One study by Therapy Dogs International (TDI) found that having a therapy dog present at an in-patient clinic provided staff with the opportunity to learn more about patient history, as patients were much more comfortable opening up about their past experiences when dogs were present.
This background could provide further insights into behavioral and emotional patterns, thoughts, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. This could then be used to better plan out their treatment path.
One excerpt states:
“When dogs were present, 56% of the participating clients seemed to interact spontaneously and ultimately revealed significant portions of their histories, especially as they related to violence, loss, self-esteem, family dynamics, and consequences of drug and alcohol use. This seems significant in light of the difficulties some substance abuse clients experience with trust, especially with those they perceive as ‘authority figures.”
Again, dogs make perfect icebreakers. When it’s difficult to talk about your history, sometimes dogs can offer a way to help you find the right words to say.
They may not do much but sit there and ask for rubs and snuggles, but the unconditional love they hold and their lack of judgement can be surprisingly powerful for the humans that need it.
The Many Benefits of Owning a Dog
Dogs really are the perfect pet, and they come with far more benefits than advertised. Of course, they can be a lot to handle at times; they can make messes, jump all over you, and cause a ruckus.
But the joy they can bring to your everyday life is worth all the messes in the house, all the muddy paws, and all the joyful licks to the face. From mental health support to physical wellness, owning a dog can be extremely beneficial to your overall health.
By Frankie Temple Wallace