The Health Benefits of Dogs

By Elizabeth Racine, DVM

If you’ve ever had a dog, you already know about the emotional benefits that a dog can provide. But did you know that there are significant physical health benefits to pet ownership as well? More and more research is being done to determine how our pets affect our health, and the results are fascinating!  Here are just a few ways that a dog can keep the doctor away:

Exercise and weight loss

It should come as no surprise that owning a dog often leads to an increase in physical activity. Not only does the dog need to be walked daily, but walking with your dog is also much more enjoyable than exercising alone! 

A 2011 study found that dog owners were significantly more likely to achieve the recommended amount of daily physical activity compared to non-owners. Not surprisingly, this increased physical activity also significantly reduces a dog owner’s risk for obesity and its related illnesses.

Cardiovascular health

Loving a dog is good for your heart – literally!  In 2013, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement outlining the recent studies that have demonstrated the beneficial effects of pet ownership. In these studies, pet owners have been shown to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, and improved survival rates after cardiovascular-related illness when compared to their non-pet owning counterparts. 

Similarly, a recent study published by the Mayo Clinic found that dog owners typically engaged in more physical activity, had better diets, and lower blood glucose levels, all of which lead to an overall decrease in their risk for cardiovascular disease.

A particularly interesting study even found that people with pets were less susceptible to stress, and their hearts recovered from stress more quickly than those of non-pet owners, especially if their pet was in the room with them during the test.

Allergies and immunity

Adults aren’t the only ones who benefit from having a pet in the household. Children who grow up with pets are significantly less likely to suffer from pet-related allergies, according to a 2011 study. Interestingly, even exposure prior to birth can be beneficial. An earlier study also found that children exposed to pets from birth had a lower risk of developing other types of allergies, asthma, and atopic dermatitis later in life. Perhaps it’s a good idea to let the kids get a puppy after all! 

There’s no doubt about it: Pet ownership is good for your health! Dogs not only enrich our lives emotionally, but also help us stay in shape, fight off disease, and manage stress. 

Researchers still don’t fully understand why some of these health benefits occur, and further studies are being conducted to unravel the profound and complex impact our pets have on our well-being. One thing is for sure: science has given us the perfect excuse to adopt another dog!