Did you know ... having a furry friend in your life can bring more than just companionship and joy? Research shows that having a dog can have a positive impact on your overall health and wellbeing. From reducing stress and anxiety to improving heart health and increasing exercise, the benefits are remarkable.
The health benefits of having a dog in your life range from physical to mental and emotional benefits, and even social benefits that can improve your wellbeing. Let’s look at some of the amazing ways dogs can improve our lives.
Physical health benefits of having a dog
We recently talked about why dogs make the perfect workout partners. Regular physical activity is essential for maintaining good health, and having a dog can be a great motivator to get moving. Dogs need regular walks and playtime, which encourages you to engage in physical activity as well. Whether it's a game of fetch in the garden or a walk around the neighbourhood, regular exercise with your pup can improve cardiovascular health and help you maintain a healthy weight.
But it’s not just about exercise. Research has shown that just stroking a dog is likely to lower your blood pressure and heart rate. These benefits can reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. So, the unconditional love that dogs show don’t just make for happy hearts but also healthy ones.
Dogs can also promote better immune function, as regular exposure to their fur and dander can strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of allergies and asthma.
Mental health benefits of having a dog
In addition to the physical benefits, owning a dog can have a significant impact on your mental health. Dogs are known to be great stress relievers. Spending time with your furry companion can lower your cortisol levels, the hormone responsible for stress. Whether you're cuddling on the couch or going for a walk, the simple act of stroking a dog can instantly boost your mood and relax your mind.
Dogs provide emotional support and can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. They offer unconditional love and companionship, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness and improve overall mental well-being. And taking them on walks forces you to get out and get some fresh air and exercise, which can help to improve your mood.
Having a dog as a pet also promotes cognitive function, especially in older adults. Interacting with a dog can stimulate the brain and improve memory and problem-solving skills. Plus, dogs help to add purpose to your life. They give you someone to care for, someone that relies on you. If you are feeling down or are suffering from depression, they can literally give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Emotional benefits of having a dog
Dogs are known to be incredibly empathetic animals, and their presence can have a profound impact on your emotional wellbeing. They provide unconditional love and support, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. Dogs are excellent listeners and can provide a sense of comfort and security during difficult times. They can sense your emotions or whether you are feeling unwell, and offer comfort by cuddling up to you or simply being there by your side.
Studies have shown that owning a dog can increase levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for bonding and feelings of love and happiness. This surge in oxytocin can improve your overall emotional wellbeing and enhance your ability to form and maintain relationships with others.
Social benefits of having a dog
Owning a dog can also have numerous social benefits, which can in turn help to improve your mental, emotional and even physical health. Dogs are natural icebreakers and can help facilitate social interactions with others. Taking your dog for walks or visiting dog parks allows you to meet and connect with other dog owners, creating a sense of community and belonging.
Dogs can help alleviate social anxiety and provide a topic of conversation, making it easier to engage in conversations with strangers. They can also be a great way to meet new people who share similar interests and passions. Owning a dog can encourage you to be more socially active and can help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.
You can look for local meetups and events for dogs and their humans, even ones for specific breeds to meet up and socialise. Taking your dog to obedience classes, agility classes and other activities can be another good way to socialise with other likeminded people while also being good for your dog at the same time.
Dogs as support animals
Dogs don’t just make lovable pets, family members and companions, they can also act as much-needed support for people with disabilities, mental health conditions and other needs. The intelligence and adaptability of dogs, as well as their emotional intelligence and loving disposition, mean they have long been recognised as excellent therapy and support animals.
Labradors and Golden Retrievers are particularly well known as being guide dogs for individuals with sight loss or vision impairments, like superhero guide dog, Lorna. The improvement guide dogs can bring to the quality of life of the visually impaired is immeasurable, allowing them to regain the freedom and independence they may have lost. Guide dogs support their humans in moving around their home and outside of the home safely and with confidence.
Guidedogs.org.uk shares some inspiring stories from people with visual impairments about how being matched with a guide dog changed their lives.
Therapy dogs are trained to visit hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities to provide companionship and emotional support to patients. These dogs have a calming effect on individuals, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. They can bring smiles to the faces of patients, provide a distraction from pain and discomfort, and improve overall wellbeing.
In addition to their work in healthcare settings, therapy dogs are also used to assist individuals with various disabilities and conditions, such as autism, PTSD and anxiety disorders. Their presence can help individuals feel more at ease and improve their quality of life. The unique bond between humans and dogs makes them ideal therapy animals, and their ability to provide comfort and support is truly remarkable.
Support dogs for children with special needs
Dogs can particularly have a profound impact on the lives of children with special needs. The presence of a dog can provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to children with physical or developmental disabilities as well as other conditions such as autism, ADHD and anxiety. Dogs can help reduce anxiety, improve social skills, and promote emotional regulation in children. They provide a sense of routine and structure, which can be particularly beneficial for children with autism.
Dogs can also assist in therapy sessions, providing a calming and non-judgmental presence. Additionally, the responsibilities associated with owning a dog, such as feeding and grooming, can help teach children important life skills and promote a sense of responsibility and empathy.
What if you can’t have a pet?
There can be a number of reasons why someone is unable to have a pet. Perhaps where you live doesn’t have enough space for a dog or you live in rented accommodation that doesn’t allow pets. Some people may choose not to get a pet because they don’t have the money to provide the proper care that a pet would need, or because they don’t have enough spare time to give a pet the proper attention that they need – perhaps if they travel a lot for work, for example.
But don’t worry, you can still enjoy the company of dogs and get these amazing health benefits even without a pet. If a friend, family member or neighbour has a dog, just visiting them or offering to walk or look after their dog can give you many of the associated health benefits, such as reduced stress and lower blood pressure.
If there are no dogs in your life that you can visit, then you could consider volunteering at a local rescue or animal shelter, giving the dogs there the love and attention they need while they wait to get adopted. Or you could try housesitting or dog walking websites, where others look for someone to look after their pets while they are on holiday or at work.
There are so many reasons to love your dog
I’m sure we didn’t need to convince you of how incredible dogs are, but it’s always good to see just how many benefits they offer us. Whether you're looking for a running partner, a therapy companion, or simply a furry friend to cuddle with, dogs have a unique ability to improve your life and wellbeing. Why not show your appreciation and treat your dog to a cosy Dogrobe this Valentine’s Day?