Dog owners have always known the calm and mood-boosting benefits of pets. However, it is only in recent years that this has been backed up by science. The physical and mental health benefits of owning a dog are vast, from stress relief and reducing anxiety to cardiovascular health. Pets can boost your mood, prevent illness, and even add years to your life.
Dogs bring joy and unconditional love to your life, which can help to boost self-confidence and reduce anxiety. Stroking a dog for just 15 minutes is enough to lower your blood pressure by 10%. This is because it encourages your body to release ‘feel good’ hormones, such as serotonin and oxytocin. These hormones are important in people with mental health problems, especially those with depression and anxiety
Animal-assisted therapy is something that has been used to great effect in hospitals and nursing homes. This is because it has been found to improve moods and reduce the risk of developing depression. A study conducted on pet therapy for elderly people with dementia revealed that interacting with dogs reduced sadness and anxiety. Additionally, positive emotions were enhanced, and mood benefits were found.
Studies have shown that the companionship of a pet reduces feelings of loneliness. This was found in a 2020 study by the University of York and the University of Lincoln. Researchers questioned 6,000 people from the UK who had at least one pet about their experiences of the Covid-19 lockdown. More than 90% of respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown.
HABRI (Human Animal Bond Research Institute), based in America, has conducted further research on the human-animal bond. Their findings show that this interaction can be beneficial in tackling social isolation. This is partly due to a dog being able to fulfil the basic human need for touch.
Did you know that dog owners are far more likely to meet daily physical activity guidelines? They are nearly four times more likely than non-dog owners, found in 2019 by researchers at the University of Liverpool. It was also found that children who own dogs take part in more walking and physical activity in their free time.
Regular exercise can improve your muscle strength, boost your endurance, and promote better sleep. A brisk walk can help to lose weight and keep your heart healthy, while helping reduce cardiovascular diseases.
In 2019, a comprehensive review of studies found that dog owners had a lower risk of [early] death. This was because they generally had lower blood pressure levels and improved responses to stress compared to non-dog owners.
Scientists believe that the bond between pet owners and their dogs reduces stress. Stress is a major cause of heart problems and high blood pressure.
Children with autism
The act of stroking a dog has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. This can be very beneficial to a child that is prone to meltdowns or bouts of aggression. Dogs can help children with autism to communicate and often make socialising easier for them.
Playing with a pet can encourage empathy towards animals and humans. While caring for a pet can develop important life skills such as responsibility and routine.
Research has found that animal-assisted intervention in the classroom can significantly improve the social behaviours of children with autism. A 54% increase was observed in this area, along with a 43% reduction in indicators of anxious activation (being clingy). This research was carried out by the Organization for Human-Animal Interaction Research and Education (OHAIRE).
Dogs expose their owners to greater bacterial diversity by acting like a probiotic. This strengthens the human immune system and reduces the risk of illness, which contributes to a healthy lifestyle. A study found that infants exposed to dogs early on in their life were associated with an altered gut microbiome. This may reduce the risk of them developing eczema, asthma and other health conditions.
Our obsession with hygiene and cleanliness has caused our bodies to struggle when reacting to harmless substances. This is why the number of people with allergies is thought to have increased. The University of Arizona is conducting a study on dog saliva. It is believed that the bacteria within could help reduce allergic reactions and other negative immune responses in humans.
Helping the NHS
The Companion Animal Economics report found that pet ownership could be saving the NHS up to £2.45 billion a year. The study looked at the pros and cons of having companion animals, such as pet dogs and cats. These animals have an effect on our mental and physical health, and our overall wellbeing. They can even help to prevent illness.
If you liked this article, why not check out: