More than just an adorable playmate and companion, dogs come with some pretty powerful mental health benefits. Did you know that caring for dogs (or other pets such as cats, rabbits, and even fish) can ease stress, relieve anxiety, and even encourage weight loss? Dog ownership can have significant positive effects on one’s mental, physical, emotional, and social health – plus, they make pretty good snuggle buddies too!
The relationship between dogs and humans
As a result of a bond lasting tens of thousands of years since the dawn of domestication, dogs are aware of and highly attuned to human emotions and behavior. So much so, that they actively seek to make eye contact with their humans and analyze their body language and tone. By doing so, dogs are trying to understand their human’s feelings and thoughts. If you’ve ever had a sneaking suspicion that your dog is able to pick up on your feelings, you may have been on to something. Like our human friends, dogs seek to cheer us up when we are feeling down!
Dogs can relieve stress on a biological level
Spending time with dogs has effects on the hormonal level. Playing with a dog can increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. These “feel good” chemicals released by our brains improve our mood and help us to calm down. As a result, petting, hugging, or playing with a dog can quickly soothe and relax you when you’re feeling anxious or stressed. Interacting with a pet has also been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Furthermore, petting and cuddling a dog has even been shown to lower blood pressure.
Owning a dog combats isolation
By providing unconditional love and easing loneliness, dog ownership has been shown to reduce stress and ward off mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. In fact, pet owners are less likely to struggle with depression than those without pets. Additionally, owning a pet adds structure to your day and a greater purpose to your life – some of the many powerful benefits of caretaking. At the end of the day, dogs are a wonderful source of comfort, love, and support – all ingredients necessary for good mental health.
Dog ownership comes with plenty of physical health benefits. Since pet ownership encourages daily exercise and regular movement, owning a dog can result in weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, when compared with people without pets, pet owners have been found to exhibit lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which are indicators of heart disease. Plus, owning a dog has been linked to a lower risk of death after a heart attack. The healthy lifestyle changes that come with dog ownership can even work to improve mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Social benefits (especially for older adults)
Dogs also provide social benefits, particularly for older adults and seniors. Dogs provide companionship, which can combat isolation, help prevent illness, and even add years to your life. In fact, pet owners over 65 years of age make 30 percent fewer visits to the doctor than those without pets. Especially since many people talk to their pets, dogs can be a great source of comfort and friendship and can even be great listeners when talking about your problems!
Dog ownership is also a great way to help you to meet new people and begin new friendships. By bonding over your dogs at the dog park or doggie daycare, the companionship between you and a new friend is off to a great start!
Emotional benefits (especially for children)
Did you know that dogs can teach emotional learning? By teaching a sense of responsibility, empathy, and understanding, dogs can help kids learn how to build emotional relationships with others around them. Kids feel comfortable talking to their dogs without any judgment and can hence learn any communication skills necessary for relationship building. Dogs can also help to calm hyperactive kids and provide a sense of security in anxious children.
Dogs have more power and influence over mental health than you may have thought! In addition, they can also help to improve physical, social, and emotional health by being the active and understanding companions that we all need in our lives.
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