Are Dog Owners Healthier?
Written by Ella White
Medically approved by Cathy Piche BA, RVT, CCRP
Ever looked at your dog and thought about how much better your life is with them in it? Well, it’s not just a feeling – it’s a fact. Science has proven, time and time again, that our deep connection with our furry friends is good for our health. So if you’ve been wondering, ‘are dog owners healthier?’ then the answer might stretch further than you thought.
In this blog, we will look at the different ways in which owning a dog can make you healthier, both mentally and physically.
Are Dogs Good For Physical Fitness?
To start with the obvious: owning a dog and taking them on their daily walks means dog owners are more likely to get outside and exercise than non-dog-owners. It’s one of the natural health benefits of having a dog, as it’s a task that has to be done every day whether you walk or run for exercise separately.
It’s also been found dog owners are more likely to stick to fitness plans and reach their personal fitness goals. A study by Michigan State University found that dog owners are:
- 34% more likely to walk for 150 minutes per week
- 69% more physically active
- Walk 28% faster with a puppy than you would alone or with another human
Owning a dog has also been found useful in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic, as teenagers and young people who grow up with dogs are more likely to be more physically active than children from families without dogs.
Regular activity helps:
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels
- Manage weight gain and loss
- Strengthen heart muscles
Dog ownership is not just an incentive to get out of the house, it helps us form the habits we carry on with us later into life.
Are Dogs Good For Mental Health?
The mental benefits of owning a dog are intrinsically linked to the health benefits. Of course, it’s great to have cuddles with and feel needed by our furry friends. But regular activity patterns have also been proven to have positive effects on our mental wellbeing.
One of the mental health benefits of dog ownership is socialization. Getting out of the house everyday – whether you talk to others on your dog walks or not – has been found to lead to a reduced perception of social isolation. This is also a risk factor for heart attacks so it contributes to yet another heath benefit associated with owning a dog. Easing those who are lonely or who live alone out of isolation can greatly improve their mental health and even prevent premature death: a win, win all round.
Just engaging with your dog on its own has been proven to boost brain chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, known as ‘feel-good’ chemicals that create positive feelings. This helps you bond with your pet, but also carries that happy feeling with you into the rest of your day. It’s even been proven to reduce the likelihood of depression.
Are Dogs Good For Developing Social Skills?
As well as helping children to develop an active lifestyle, dog ownership can also help them learn how to socialize. A report by child psychologist Rober Bierer found that children who experienced caring for dogs when they were young were more likely to have high levels of empathy and self-esteem than those without pets.
It’s also been found that young children who practise reading to a dog can improve their literacy by 12% in 10-weeks.
Can Dogs Help With Chronic Disease?
Owning a pet has been found to help prevent and manage chronic diseases. As a preventative measure, walking a dog regularly means owners are two-thirds less likely to develop diabetes than those who don’t own a dog. This is because Type II diabetes can be aggravated by lack of physical activity and increased stress, as well as diet.
In children, studies have shown that those who grow up with a pet dog are less likely to suffer from eczema and other allergies, and are also less likely to suffer autoimmune diseases. There’s a perceived link here between the different kinds of bacteria that a dog exposes its owners to – but rather than being dirty and in need of constant cleaning it’s actually beneficial for our immune systems to experience this kind of exposure. Especially from a young age.
Similarly, for those already experiencing a chronic illness, like dementia, being around dogs can reduce agitation and anxiety and promote a sense of calm. This, along with reducing loneliness and social isolation, has led to an increase in ‘therapy dogs’ in care settings and hospitals.
Various studies have also found that petting dogs are 50% less likely to need pain medication post-surgery, and people who have suffered from heart attacks have a better one-year survival rate if they own a dog. Dog ownership can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease (especially in male owners), and decrease blood pressure – all leading to dog owners needing 20% less medical care than those who don’t own a dog.
Pet therapy and dog ownership is currently being studied for its efficacy in dealing with fibromyalgia.
What Else Makes Dog Owners Healthier?
For those working from home, studies have shown that pets can help reduce work-related stress. We all wish we could take our furry friends to the office with us, but studies have actually proven that 40% of workers believe their work stands in the way of their health. So by owning a pet to keep them company at home, or to greet them with tail-wagging and cuddles when they get back from the office, can help improve their wider quality of life.
And it’s not just our home life that can be improved by the presence of pets. Chapman University in California’s ‘Furry Friends for Finals’ program brings 10 puppies into the study library in the week before exams to help students de-stress. It’s been shown to boost serotonin and dopamine, and in turn boost memory and concentration and reduce stress. A great idea for students who might not be in a position to own their own pets, but can certainly benefit from having them around.
Owning a dog is a big commitment, and for various reasons it might not be for everybody. But if you think a dog would fit easily into your lifestyle, then these benefits should make the decision to invest in a furry friend even easier.
And if you’ve just got a new pet and are wondering how to keep them as happy and healthy as they keep you, why not try Front of the Pack’s air-dried dog food? Made with 100% pure, fresh, and natural ingredients, it’s the quickest and most convenient way to give your dog all the nutrients they need. Developed by vets and clean enough to eat yourself, it’s an easy way to give your pet the best start in life.