We can thank our dogs for many things – laughs, companionship and muddy paw prints on the carpet included. But do you ever stop and think about the more long-term impacts that owning a dog can have on your physical and mental health?
This National Love Your Pet Day (20th February), we are thanking our pets for the health benefits they bring to our lives, from exercise to increasing confidence.
8 mental and physical health benefits of owning a dog
1. You might visit the doctor less
An Australian survey found that dog owners make fewer visits to the GP in a year and are less likely to be on medication for heart problems or sleep issues.
2. You could be less anxious
Veterinarian Dr Jo Gale, Mars Petcare Scientific Advisor, says: “Several studies have found that interacting with pet dogs or therapy dogs is associated with reductions in the stress hormone cortisol and reductions in self-reported anxiety.”
2. You could have lower risk of cardiovascular disease
A nationwide 2017 study in Sweden found that owning a dog could be beneficial in reducing the risk of the owner developing cardiovascular disease, thanks to having increased motivation to exercise and a non-human social support network. Interestingly, the study found that owning hunting breeds lowered the risk the most.
3. You are more sociable
An American study, which looked at three factors of being sociable – getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks – found that dog owners are five times more likely to know people in their community. They found that dogs, acting as companions, helped owners be more sociable on every level, from one-off interactions to the development of deep friendships.
4. You might live longer
In the Waltham Pocket Book of Human-Animal Interactions there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that the physical benefits of having a dog can lead to a longer, healthier life. Section 8 reads: “The many health benefits of regular physical activity are well documented, and include lower rates of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and certain types of cancer.”
5. You have higher self-esteem
A 2017 study by the University of Liverpool found that growing up with a dog can increase self-esteem in children. It also found young people with pets to be less lonely and have enhanced social skills. Lead author, Rebecca Purewal, states: “Critical ages for the impact of pet ownership on self-esteem, appear to be greatest for children under 6, and preadolescents and adolescents over 10.”
6. You exercise more
A 2019 study by Lintbells found the average dog owner walks 870 miles every 12 months with their pets. That equates to just four miles less than the distance between John o’Groats in Scotland and Land’s End in Cornwall. Just over half of the 2,000 British adults surveyed owned a dog, and they walk, on average, more than 21 miles a week – 17 of which are with their pet. That’s around seven miles more than non dog owners who only clock up 14 miles a week.
7. Children miss less school
Veterinarian Dr Jo Gale says: “Having pets in the home has been linked to enhanced immune function in children, as evidenced by better school attendance rates due to fewer illness-related absences. The effect was particularly strong for younger children (five to eight-years-old) and, in some cases amounted to nearly three extra weeks of school attendance for children with pets.”
8. You are less likely to be lonely
Studies have shown that, out of any other pet, dogs have the strongest connection to loneliness, mainly because they are on show a lot more. Over 80% 0f people who took part in Mars Petcare’s 2018 research said that, just one month after getting a dog, they felt a lot less lonely.