Millions of people adopted a dog during the COVID-19 pandemic as they were spending more time at home and could finally give a displaced animal the love and attention they need. What most of these new pet parents probably didn’t realize was that they were not only saving a pup, but they were taking a big step forward for their own personal wellness.
“Dogs are great for supporting human health and wellness,” says Antje Joslin, a veterinarian for Dogtopia, a national dog daycare, boarding, and spa franchise. “Dogs offer huge health benefits for their human counterparts, from improved happiness to fewer allergies and so much more.”
You heard that right! Dogs make us better humans, but in so many more ways beyond kisses and cuddles.
Top health benefits of dogs
Here are the top seven health benefits of dogs and how to decide if a pet is really right for you.
1. Improved heart health
Remember all those times you complained about having to take your dog outside for a walk in the middle of winter? Well, you may want to forgive your furry friend for forcing you off the couch.
According to the American Heart Association, dog parents enjoy a 65% reduced chance of death if they’ve had a prior heart event. That’s because having a canine family member can help ensure you stay physically active, which is good for your ticker.
2. Better mood
Most of us already know this to be true, but experts reaffirm dogs can improve your mood. Why else would people follow hundreds of dogs on Instagram? Simply looking at an adorable pup can give you all kinds of feels.
“We feel better after a difficult day when our pup happily greets us at home,” says Lorraine Rhoads, environmental biologist for Dogtopia. “We feel less sad or lonely during a heartbreaking moment when we cuddle with our furry family members.”
This lift in your mood can be attributed to chemicals in your brain such as oxytocin and dopamine, which are released even when just petting your dog.
3. More social interaction
If you’re a new pet parent, you’ve probably been stopped on the street at some point while walking your dog. People love to ogle over new pups, but this also creates an opportunity for social interaction with another human being. You already have something in common with this stranger stopping you on the street — you both love dogs!
Along with interactions on walks, you can meet people at the dog park, go to events where pet parents bring along their furry friends, or make new friends while your dog attends obedience or agility training.
“Having a dog as your wingman or ‘wing-pup’ can be a great icebreaker to start conversations and make new connections with other people, which reduces feelings of isolation,” says Rhoads.
4. Fewer allergies
According to a study done by Bill Hesselmar at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues, the presence of cats and dogs in a child’s home during their first year of life helps protect them from allergies between ages 7 and 9.
“Doctors believe this is because pets create a more diverse exposure to allergens like fur dander, outside pollens being brought inside, or bacteria,” explains Rhoads. “This exposure can strengthen your immune system.”
5. Fewer doctor visits
New research finds pet parents of dogs visit their physician fewer times each year than non-pet parents, according to the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative.
Analyses done by researchers at George Mason University reveal pet owners incurred more than $11 billion in savings in U.S. healthcare costs.
6. Better medical compliance
Rhoads notes people with dogs are more likely to be compliant with doctor-recommended medication schedules.
“It is theorized that this is because dog parents may worry about the care of their beloved pup in their absence,” she adds.
In other words, if we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we ensure we’ll be around for our furry friends who depend on us? As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Right?
7. Noticing disease
All kinds of studies are currently being conducted on this topic, but the general consensus is dogs have superpowers of sorts that allow them to detect disease in humans.
When someone experiences bodily changes such as low or high blood sugar, an oncoming epileptic seizure, or even some types of cancer, their body releases odor biomarkers, unique chemical changes in the human body that can be recognized by dogs.
Rhoads lists some of the health conditions that dogs have successfully detected, including cancer, viral diseases like COVID-19, diabetes, asthma attacks, migraines, and narcolepsy, among many others.
“An employee at Dogtopia has a seizure alert dog that comes to work with her everyday and enjoys daycare when she’s not ‘working’,” shares Rhoads. “The dog has saved her life many times by alerting her of a seizure about 20 minutes before it happens. To see this pup in action will amaze anyone watching.”
So, should you get a dog?
With seemingly endless stories and studies supporting the positive impact of dogs on human wellness, you may already be planning a trip to your local shelter to adopt a furry friend. However, the human-animal bond is a two-way street. Owning a dog isn’t suddenly going to fix your feelings of social isolation or health challenges.
“When you get an animal, make sure you can take care of it,” advises Joslin. “Financially, schedule-wise…there’s nothing worse than not being able to provide the basics for them. They can’t help your wellness if you can’t be there for them.”
It’s also important to research what kind of dog will match your lifestyle and needs.
“High-energy breeds like Australian Shepherds are great for your wellness if you are an active person that can get outside with them a lot,” says Joslin. “Otherwise, they’re probably just going to destroy things around the house and stress you out.”
Introverts and homebodies are probably better off with low-energy breeds like basset hounds or French Bulldogs. People who want a companion to accompany them everywhere may find their match in a pocket or purse chihuahua they can easily carry around.
The bottom line: “It really just depends on what each of you need out of the relationship,” says Joslin.