14 health benefits of owning a dog

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Most people know that owning a dog is a fun and rewarding experience. What is perhaps less well known is that owning a dog brings with it a whole host of health benefits too. We have listed the most important of them below.

1. Increasing your physical activity

Dogs need walking, which usually means you will need to be up and about walking them. Regularly walking your furry friend will help you to reach the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week (or 30 minutes five days a week) needed to remain fit and healthy. Maintaining motivation to keep active, especially as we age and have other life worries to think about, can be difficult.

Walking with a dog is much more fun than walking alone, and possibly safer too, which can help keep your motivation up. For those days when you really do not feel like it dogs have a trick up their furry sleeves to help you overcome your reluctance – they are particularly good at guilt tripping us into going walkies! Who can say no to that sad face? All dog owners will know the one we mean.

Maintaining activity in old age has many health benefits, and elderly dog walkers report less daily living limitations than their less active dog-less counterparts.

2. Losing weight

All that extra activity is great for shedding any excess pounds you may have – especially after the holidays. This will Lower your BMI which is good for your joints and general health. Feeling healthier and fitter will be a great boost to your confidence and self-esteem too.

Maintaining motivation to exercise regularly is essential for healthy weight loss, but as we saw earlier, this can be difficult. For some, the responsibility of walking a dog – even one that is not their own – can provide this long term motivation.

3. Being good for your heart

Dogs are good for your heart, and not just due to the exercise you get from taking them walkies. Stroking dogs has been shown to lower blood pressure.

It is believed that owning a dog can lessen the risk of heart disease and reduce levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. Dog owners are thought to be more likely to recover from a heart attack than non-owners, and they may also be at a reduced risk of a second attack.

Pet ownership, especially having a dog, is probably associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. This does not mean that there is a clear cause and effect relationship between the two. But it does mean that pet ownership can be a reasonable part of an overall strategy to lower the risk of heart disease.

4. Speeding up recovery and increasing pain tolerance

Having a dog in the home can speed up their owner’s recovery after an illness or injury. It has also been suggested that having a dog around can reduce the perception of pain in some children.

5. Reducing your stress levels

Stroking and interacting with dogs has been shown to relieve stress by releasing the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and reducing the stress hormone cortisol levels in both humans and their furry friends. Since prolonged stress can cause a number of serious health problems, keeping stress levels nice and low is essential.

6. Improving your mood

Playing with your dog may also promote the release of the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. This may even help treat mild depression.

7. Making new friends

When taking Fido walkies, you will probably meet other dog walkers. Dogs are great ice breakers and you may well forge new friendships with their owners whilst the dogs form friendships of their own.

8. Preventing feelings of isolation and loneliness

Even if you don’t make new human friends you will have your own furry friend by your side. This is especially beneficial for the elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Studies suggest interaction with dogs can lead to reduced outbursts and aggression.

9. Making you feel safe and secure

Dogs are territorial and protective by nature, something they inherited from their Wolf ancestors. Your dog will see your home as part of its territory, and you as the leader of its pack. As such, it may well attempt to defend both you and your home from perceived threats. (Which sometimes includes the unfortunate postal worker). Dogs will bark loudly acting as a natural intruder alarm.

Burglars are less likely to target homes that contain dogs due to this. Some larger breeds and those with a ‘certain reputation’ can be quite intimidating, which may encourage undesirables to keep their distance and leave you and your home alone. The feeling of safety this creates is reassuring too.

10. Keeping pests at bay

Pests such as rats and mice are less likely to enter homes if there is a dog around. This, in turn, reduces the chance of the pests passing on diseases, such as Leptospirosis – AKA Weil’s Disease.

11. Bringing purpose

Owning a dog is a big responsibility. Some people find this responsibility gives their lives purpose when purpose is lacking elsewhere. This is particularly true of retirees. The responsibility of owning a dog can help motivate people to get out of bed in the morning and keep going.

12. Creating happy childhoods and healthy children

A dog in the home can prove immeasurably beneficial to children as they grow up. As they care for their four-legged ‘siblings’ they will learn empathy, compassion and responsibility – skills that will be invaluable as they reach adult hood.

A dog’s comparatively shorter lifespan can help children to come to terms with mortality. Although losing a beloved pet is traumatic, it may help cushion them should they lose a human loved one, such as a grandparent, later in life.

Contrary to past popular belief, having a dog in the home may actually decrease the risk of allergies and respiratory and ear infections, due to strengthening the child’s immune system. Less school days lost to sickness often results in better performance, grades and attainment.

13. Being therapeutic for special needs such as ASD, ADD and ADHD

Many people on the Autistic spectrum form a very special bond with dogs. ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder sufferers may find dogs easier to relate to than many humans, and having a dog in the home can be very therapeutic.

Research from the University of Lincoln found that children with autism experience fewer meltdowns in the presence of a pet dog and their parents stress levels are significantly lowered, but we also see that dogs can make a difference to confidence levels, help reduce anxiety, improve communication and help families do more together.

Children with ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may too benefit from having a dog in the home. Caring for the pet will help teach the child to schedule and plan ahead. Playing with the dog will also help the child to burn off their excess energy

14. Helping people to overcome disabilities and detecting illnesses

It is well known that dogs can be trained to do a number of vital jobs. Guide dogs for the blind are one such example. Another example is Service dogs, who can assist those with limited mobility or medical conditions. Therapy dogs have been shown to aid in the recovery of stroke survivors. Some dogs have even been trained to detect the early signs of seizures that their owners may not be aware of, and some have even detected cancers before the doctors did.

So, there we have it, fourteen reasons to own a dog, beyond the obvious one of dogs being generally fantastic. If you decide to get a dog, remember the responsibility that comes with it and choose your future pet wisely. Some breeds, and indeed some individual dogs a
re more suitable for some domestic set-ups than others.

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