There are an estimated 78 million pet dogs in the United States. Dogs truly are humans’ best friends. But that friendship goes far beyond companionship and loyalty – these furry family members are doing wonders for our health!

Your pup may show you love in a variety of ways, but their help goes way deeper than that! There is a ton of research showing the health benefits of having a dog. 

6 Health Benefits of Having a Dog

1. Reduce Stress

We’re all busy. Between home life, work life, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But think about the feeling you get when you walk in the front door and are greeted by your pup. It’s seriously one of the best feelings in the world. And, I bet you’ll agree that any stress you were feeling when you pulled in the driveway evaporated once those slobbery kisses started!

Even something as simple as petting your dog can help manage stress. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animal can lower blood pressure and help you feel calmer and less stressed out!

And research backs this! Studies show that an interaction with a pet positively affects changes in the levels of stress hormones (particularly cortisol) in the body.

Quick Tip: Want to help relieve your dog’s stress? The easiest way to reduce a dog’s stress is through regular, daily exercise. Go for a walk, a swim, or play in the park. Really any form of physical activity will not only reduce your dog’s stress, it also helps them to live a much longer and healthier life.

2. Keep You Active

It makes sense that dog owners are naturally more active than non-owners. After all, our pups need walks or we’ll pay for the laziness with their anxiety, poor health, or bad behaviour.

Research shows that, on average, dog owners walk almost double the time per week that non dog owners do. But it’s more than that. Not only are those with dogs getting more exercise, they’re getting better quality exercise. And, dog walkers are more likely to stick to their fitness goals than those who walk alone or with other humans. Here are just a few of the studies that have looked at this:

And, it isn’t just activity levels in general. Another study shows us that this increased activity is even more evident in poor weather – in fact, the research found that regular dog walkers were more active and less sedentary on days with the poorest conditions than non-dog owners were on the days with the best conditions. On days with the worst weather conditions, those who walked their dogs had 20% higher activity levels than non-dog owners and spent 30 minutes per day less sedentary!

3. Improve Heart Health

Dogs may be our “heart” animals, but they’re also our heart health animals!

Part of this comes from the increased activity of dog owners, as well as the reduction in stress, which can negatively impact your heart health. When you’re stressed out and your body releases cortisol, this can lead to heightened blood pressure. Over time, this can result in higher cholesterol and hypertension, which are also linked to poor heart health.

Scientists at the American Heart Association say that dog owners have a 24% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and are 65% less likely to die after a heart attack compared to those without a dog. And, research shows that those who’ve suffered cardiovascular-related issues were also 31% less likely to pass away if there’s a dog at home while they’re recovering.

Health Benefits of Having a Dog

4. Improve Your Social Life

Think about the people you’ve met, shared some conversation with, even established a friendship with, all because of your dog! I bet you can name a bunch! Dogs are get ice-breakers, and offer a great chance to speak to someone new.

If you know people in your neighbourhood, there’s a good chance it’s because of your furry family member. Researchers studying the link between dogs and human-human relationships in 4 major global cities (four cities: Perth, Australia; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; and San Diego, California) found that having a dog can have a significant impact on the social connections between people. The study found that pet owners are 60% more likely to meet new people in their communities compared to those without pets.

It gets better! Not only can dogs help you meet other people, but they can improve your overall social attitude. Bonus!

5. Boost Your Mood

Dogs make us happy, it’s as simple as that. This, for me, is the best of all the health benefits of having a dog.

But if you want some science to go with that common sense statement, it exists too. Say it with me… oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also known as the happy hormone. It calms your nervous system down, relaxing you, while also increasing your trust, making you feel good. And, when you spend time with your dog, this increases your levels of oxytocin. Pets, cuddles, belly rubs – these all boost your mood thanks to oxytocin.

There’s more. While companionship of a dog can help keep you healthy, isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Having a dog can help keep those symptoms at bay. Caring for an animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and even give you a sense of purpose.

6. Strengthen Your Immune System

Our guts are almost as amazing as our dogs. They’re home to the healthy bacteria that forms an essential part of our immune system, crucial in maintaining all aspects of our physical and mental health. And dogs can help protect the gut!

Dogs work kind of like a probiotic, helping you to develop healthy bacteria colonies in your body. These healthy bacteria give your immune system a major boost that can help keep you healthy. Researchers are currently looking at dog saliva and the bacteria within it. Bring on those slobbery dog kisses!

Even just petting a dog can help keep your immune system in check. Research shows that petting dogs could improve your levels of immunoglobulin A. That’s an important antibody that helps protect your gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts from infection.

A Dog Today to Keep the Doctor Away

When it comes to the health benefits of having a dog, there are several ways that having a dog can positively impact your overall health. But maybe the most impressive is that having a dog at home can actually help you live longer. Research shows that “Dog ownership was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to non ownership.” So, show your dog a little (or a lot) of extra love today, and every day, because they’re helping you live your best life!