Dog lovers need no convincing that a four-legged friend can do you good. They know that their pooch enriches their life and that they benefit greatly from having a dog in their home. But perhaps you didn’t realize that there is a surprising amount of scientific evidence that indicates that dogs are very good for your health? It seems that scientific research is now supporting what dog owners have been saying for years.
Here are 10 surprising benefits of owning a dog, just in case you needed persuading!
This is the most obvious benefit and one that many dog owners talk about. It’s no secret that exercise is good for us. The latest health recommendation is that we should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. Brisk walking is counted as moderate aerobic activity. If you have a dog, you will have no problems achieving this! Exercise is good for every part of your body and is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
The main barrier to humans exercising is motivation. We all know that we should do it but many of us can’t be bothered! It is especially hard to get out for a brisk walk if it is cold or raining. When you have a dog, you have no choice! Your four-legged friend will need to get out whatever the weather and however you feel. This gets you into a very regular exercise routine with no slacking and it will do you both the world of good.
A Healthy Heart
Research indicates that dog owners have less heart disease. Some of this can be attributed to the increase in exercise and there is no doubt that physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease. However, there’s likely to be more to it than that. Studies have shown that the companionship of a dog has been linked to lower blood pressure levels. There is also a correlation with lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This improves cardiovascular health and decreases the risk of a heart attack. If you are unlucky enough to suffer a heart attack, the good news is that dog owners have better survival rates.
Obesity is a serious health issue in the United States. It triggers numerous health problems including many types of cancer, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It is now thought that two out of every three American men are overweight or obese and the rates for women are even higher. Obesity contributes to between 100,000 and 400,000 deaths in the US every year and costs society an estimated $117 billion. Anything that helps this situation has got be taken seriously and it appears that dogs could be one of those things.
Because dogs make you exercise, they can be very helpful in weight management because you will burn up calories. Daily dog walking requires owners to participate in at least ten minutes of exercise a day and possibly a lot more depending on the breed. One study loaned dogs to public housing residents and found that they lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year. If your dog also persuades you to run around the garden with them, you could lose even more weight.
Obesity in children is of particular concern as it sets them up for a lifetime of avoidable health problems. Older children can be given the task of walking the dog and younger children can run around the yard with them. The whole family could benefit.
Allergies in children are on the rise. It is now thought that more than 50 million Americans have an allergy and it is the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the US. The symptoms of an allergy range from mildly irritating issues such as a runny nose to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
It used to be thought that dogs caused allergies in humans and, to some extent, that is true. However, recent research indicates that having pets such as dogs in your home can reduce a child’s chance of becoming allergic to pets by nearly a third. It is thought that pets strengthen a child’s immune system as well.
There is evidence to suggest that the benefits start even before the child is born. When a woman is pregnant, ‘bacterial exchange’ of common bacteria called Ruminococcus and Oscillospira occurs so the babies are born with these healthy bacteria. This is more likely to happen in homes where dogs live. The bacteria reduce the risk of common allergies and therefore help to prevent disease like asthma and eczema.
Depression and Well-being
Mental health is another serious health issue in the US that affects more citizens every year. In 2018, one in every five adults in the US had a mental health condition and that adds up to over 40 million Americans. To put this health problem in perspective, that’s more than the populations of New York and Florida put together.
The statistics for young people are even more worrying and indicate a worsening health crisis. The rates for young people with severe depression increased from just under 6 per cent in 2012 to over 8 per cent in 2015 and numbers are continuing to rise.
Depression is less common among dog owners. Even those who are clinically depressed will benefit from having a dog. Studies have shown that people who are socially isolated can experience the most benefits of dog ownership. Therapy dogs have been shown to have a very positive impact on people of all ages and all health statuses.
The explanation for this may be quite complicated. It may be something about the act of looking after a dog. A pooch will need a regular routine of feeding and walking and this can force depressed people to stay active and gives them something to focus on if they are feeling helpless.
The physical activity that goes with owning a dog is also likely to be helpful as is the interaction that you get with other dog owners when you are out and about with your pooch. There is probably a sense of well-being that goes along with the unconditional love that a dog gives you and perhaps, for some people, being needed by something is very important. When owners look at their pet, they experience an increase of oxytocin in the brain. This is the “feel good” chemical and plays an important role in mood control.
Social Life and Relationships
Positive relationships are essential for our well-being and without a social life it is hard to form those relationships. The good news is that your dog can seriously boost your social life.
Studies have found that older people in particular can struggle to meet new friends and this can leave them feeling isolated. Families are often spread over all four corners of the country and many move overseas. The answer could be to get a dog!
It has been shown that dog owners are more likely to make friends. This may be because they stop and chat to other dog owners in public spaces like the park. Owning a dog gives some common ground, a shared interest and something to strike up a conversation about. Social networks that grow up around dog walking are very common. People who own a dog are generally regarded as trustworthy. One study has even shown that people who own dogs had closer and more supportive relationships. Perhaps dogs teach us how to be nice people!
Cancer is a huge health issue in the US. There are around 1.75 million new cases of cancer diagnosed every year and over 600,000 people die every year from the disease. The most common cancers in the US are breast cancer and lung cancer. However, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer and melanoma of the skin are also common. Early detection is the key to increasing survival rates for all of these cancers. The earlier it is spotted, the better.
There are numerous media reports of owners claiming that their dog spotted their cancer a long time before they did. Typically, the dog obsessively fussed over or licked a mole on their owners’ body. This is not just the fanciful thinking of a few canine enthusiasts! There is scientific evidence to back this up. There have been many studies that have shown that dogs have the ability to detect tumors of prostate cancer, melanomas and colorectal cancer. Scientists understand that it is all down to a dog’s amazing sense of smell. However, no one is sure yet what exactly the smell is! Dogs have even been trained to detect markers for ovarian cancer in blood samples in laboratories.
So, if you think your pooch is trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore them. Get yourself to your doctor to get checked out.
Stress is the curse of the modern age and just about everyone has felt stressed at some point. A small amount of stress is perfectly natural and will do you no harm. However, if the stress is severe and constant, it can start to impact your physical and mental health. Researchers have observed that spending a few minutes with a dog can lower anxiety. This leads to physical changes. The blood pressure decreases and the levels of serotonin and dopamine increase. These two important neurochemicals play a big role in making you feel calm and less anxious.
Dogs can work wonders in the work environment. Workers undertake stressful tasks more successfully when a dog is around and a doggy will ease tension in an office environment. The same effect has been observed between married couples.
Many employers are catching on to this and ‘bring your dog to work’ days are more popular now than ever. It seems that people take more breaks when dogs are around because they want to walk or play with the four-legged visitor. It seems that they return to their work energized and have a higher level of job satisfaction. The employers are happy because this makes the employees more productive.
Fewer Trips to the Doctor
Obviously, there will be occasions when you need to go to the doctor but if you can manage minor ailments yourself, it saves a lot of money and removes the risk of you receiving medication that you don’t really need. It seems that dogs help out here too!
Studies have shown that people who are over 65 and have a dog seek fewer medical appointments than people who do not have a pet. All pet animals including cats and birds have the same effect but the greatest impact was recorded in owners of dogs.
Dogs don’t just help us to avoid becoming sick, they can also help us recover when we do. Hospital authorities are increasingly recognizing how important a dog can be in a patient’s rehabilitation. Pet therapy is an accepted part of stroke rehabilitation. They provide motivation for walking which helps stroke patients to become more mobile. They are also very helpful for patients that can no longer communicate verbally which is called aphasia. Dogs are very good at picking up on nonverbal clues and this helps patients to communicate their needs. Dogs are great at assisting with exercises. The physical action of stroking a dog’s coat acts as a hand exercise and helps to decrease spasticity and increase motor recovery.
Service dogs are known to benefit people who have traumatic brain injuries, autism and rheumatoid arthritis. Alzheimer’s patients are very soothed by dogs and suffer fewer emotional flare-ups and less aggression. This is likely to only be the start. We could see dogs in many other rehabilitation and therapeutic settings in the future.