Why owning a dog is good for your health
By Caroline Fontein, Pet Lifestyle Contributor
There’s a reason puppies make us smile. (And it’s not just because they’re insanely cute. Well, ok that too, but...) Cuddly pup or seasoned schnauzer, those slobbery kisses and endless tail wags do a lot more for your health than just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
From elevating your mood to lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress, man’s best friend can help you live your best life.
And here’s how:
GOOD FOR THE HEART
Shedding. Vet bills. Thrice-daily walks. Worth it? Woof! (That means yes.)
A recent Scientific Report says that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels, a lower risk of heart disease, and fewer heart attacks than their dog-less counterparts.
One possible reason is that dogs “provide social support and motivation for physical activity.” Another reason is that dogs have a calming effect which may lower blood pressure. In fact, simply petting a dog can lower it. How’s that for animal instincts?
FIDO HELPS YOU STAY FIT
Leave it to your favorite four-legged friend to lick you into shape.
According to a study published in the journal Gerontologist, dog walking was associated with “lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.” And the best part? It doesn’t feel like exercise.
Instead of begrudgingly lugging yourself to the gym (ugh), you’re just spending time with your best bud.
Plus, your canine cohabitant might just be the most motivated fitness buddy you can find. There’s nothing like a precocious pup to get you moving and out the door, even if only to ward off more exploding pillows (or missing socks). Now, go take a hike...or walk.
BONUS TIP: Walking your dog can count as a low-impact weight bearing exercise to help strengthen your bones and the muscles around them. And let’s not forget about the health benefits that come with a little sunshine, which provides vitamin D.
KEEP YOUR CALM
We already know that dog ownership is literally good for your heart. But it may also be good for your emotional heart. Interacting with animals has been found to increase human levels of oxytocin, a hormone that enhances social bonding.
And how can it not?
Think about how you feel when you spot a warm, wiggly puppy, complete with oversized paws and soft, floppy ears. (Three words: overcome by emotion.)
Every lick, cuddle, and tail wag makes you feel needed, appreciated and loved unconditionally. Thus, dog owners are less likely to feel lonely, and consequently, less likely to suffer from depression. Which is why people with little social interaction, including the elderly, can benefit from the emotional bonds that a dog provides.
The takeaway? Owning a dog keeps you happier and less lonely. No wonder we call them man’s best friend.
REDUCE STRESS AND ANXIETY
Along with helping to enhance social bonding, studies also suggest that increased oxytocin levels (i.e. the love hormone) can lead to reduced anxiety and an overall enhanced mood, among other positive benefits.
“Pleasant tactile interactions,” like petting your pup, are thought to play a role in the release of oxytocin, which in turn can help reduce stress.
Just one more excuse to cuddle up with your pup (not that you need one).
Additional studies have also found that human-animal interactions can have a positive effect on self-reported anxiety and calmness in stressful conditions.
Call it creature comforts.
More on oxytocin
Your body releases the peptide hormone oxytocin into the circulatory system and the brain in response to positive sensory stimulation, usually in the context of trusting relationships (like the one with your precious fur baby).
Oxytocin helps moderate physiological, psychological and behavioral functions and is associated with the following:
- Helping to stimulate social interactions, eye contact and trust
- Decreasing stress
- Increasing the pain threshold
- Acting as an anti-inflammatory
- Increasing the function of the parasympathetic nervous system that controls the endocrine system of the gastrointestinal tract, linked to enhanced digestive function, growth and restoration
From helping to enhance your mood to your digestive health, increasing your levels of oxytocin has many overall positive effects on your health.
If spending time with your loved ones is all it takes, then make sure you don’t forget about your four-legged family members - doggone it!
UP YOUR PACK MENTALITY
The results are in: Having a canine companion means you’re more likely to be social, and surprisingly, have more human friendships.
That’s because taking care of someone you love can be pretty powerful. Dogs force you to get out of bed, take walks, interact with others and lead a less isolated life.
A study published by Plos One found that “companion animals can be a catalyst for several dimensions of human social relationships in neighborhood settings, ranging from incidental social interaction and getting to know people, through to formation of new friendships.”
It makes sense.
You often see dog owners chatting with fellow dog walkers, stopping to let kids pet their dog, or carrying a conversation with their neighbors. Dogs are the ultimate ice-breakers!
FEWER ALLERGIES (For Kids)
If you’re trying to help your kids not have allergies, the answer might just be in your canine counterpart. Many studies suggest that children who spend time around dogs may be less likely to develop allergies later in life.
A recent study published in Plos One found that as the number of pets living with a child during their first year of life increased (i.e. households with more than one cat and/or dog) the prevalence in allergic disease in children 7 - 9 years old decreased.
So, if you’re thinking about having kids (or already have a little one on the way) and are concerned about allergies, this might just be the excuse you need to adopt a new puppy or two or three or ...
PAWS UP TO YOUR HEALTH—AND THEIRS
Since your precious pup helps keep you healthy and happy, doesn’t he or she deserve the same?
Our SmartyPaws daily multifunctional health supplements for dogs are a good place to start.
Customized by size and stage, our formulas are designed by vets to help your dog lead a happy and healthy life.
We include premium ingredients carefully-selected by some of the top minds in pet health to support their hip, joint, gut, immune, allergy, skin and urinary tract health—all in one easy serving.
Because being a good pack leader means always looking out for your (mutt-ley) crew, especially when it comes to their health.