Dog lovers know that their precious pets provide plenty of perks – from unconditional love to constant companionship. No offense to cat owners, but there’s tons of support for canines being known as “man’s best friend.” In addition to abundant anecdotal evidence, scientific research actually points to multiple benefits of having a dog.
Estimates vary, but surveys say that between 53 to 68 percent of households in the U.S. have a dog or cat, amounting to somewhere between 77 million to 90 million dogs, and 54 million to 94 million cats. And 38 to 48 percent of households have more than one dog; with 24 to 38 percent owning more than one cat. That’s a lot of four-legged friends.
While people don’t necessarily become pet owners simply to improve their own health, take a look at the significant benefits of having a dog.
Benefits of Having a Dog
- Reduced stress – Studies show that petting or playing with a dog lowers blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and cortisol, as well as reducing muscular tension.
- Better cardiovascular health – A study of 369 heart attack patients showed that those who owned dogs had a higher survival rate than non-pet owners one year after their heart attack, potentially due to the positive effects of reduced stress.
- Greater activity level – Dogs must be walked, and having a dog keeps you exercising consistently. Dog owners average walking approximately 300 minutes per week, while those who don’t have canine pals end up only walking 168 minutes per week. This can help maintain bone density, a strong heart and a healthy weight. One study showed that older adults who walked dogs had lower body mass index, fewer limitations in activities of daily living and less doctor visits.
- More social opportunities – Walking a dog regularly, taking your pooch to a dog park and enrolling your pup in classes all lead to social interaction with other dog owners or dog lovers. People who own dogs report greater connection with others and in their communities.
- Boosted happiness – The unconditional love of a pooch makes us feel valued. Staring into your dog’s eyes triggers a release of oxytocin (the “feel good” hormone), which adds to your joy. And dog owners have higher levels of serotonin and dopamine, and are less likely to suffer from depression. Dogs also provide their owners with a strong sense of purpose and routine.
- Lowered risk of illness – Dog owners tend to have lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and dogs expose people to many germs, which can boost immunity in humans. Pet owners also suffer less from minor illnesses, such as headaches, colds and hay fever. Plus, children raised in a home with a dog are less likely to have asthma and allergies.
- Higher self-esteem – Dog owners have greater self-esteem, less anxiety and fearfulness and more social support. The dependent companionship of a pup reduces loneliness as well.
- Warnings of health concerns – Dogs can be trained to warn of an impending seizure or low blood sugar, and can sniff out cancer.
- Enhanced safety – Dogs have excellent hearing, and often are very protective. Though it may drive you crazy when your pooch barks at the mailman daily, their ability to provide a heads-up to noises can be a deterrent to crime near your home. And having a big dog when walking outside in the dark helps you feel safer.
- Longer lifespan – A Swedish study of 3.4 million people indicated that people who live with a dog have a lower risk of death than those who live alone without a pup.