Furry Friends with Benefits
For thousands of years, dogs have been domesticated and bred to have qualities humans deemed suitable–a literal transformation from wild animal to man’s best friend. They are our companions, friends, family, and service dogs. That feeling we get when we see our furry friend jump with joy, give us a kiss (and accidentally hit us with that wagging tail!) is well known. The health benefits of dog ownership, however, is often less talked about. Here, we round up the scientific evidence of how dogs can significantly enhance health and quality of life.
Dogs Enhance Physical and Mental Health
- Dog owners reap amazing cardiovascular benefits, including lower cholesterol and reduced blood pressure.
- Dog owners have a lower likelihood of visiting the doctor.
- Dog owners have a lower likelihood of being on medication for sleeping and heart issues.
- Dog owners have a lower likelihood of health deterioration after losing their significant other.
- Dogs help fight depression.
- Dogs allow humans to have responsibility, purpose, and support.
- Dog owners feel safer outside when walking their dogs.
- Having a pet can save you money on health care due to less frequent doctor’s visits–a result of greater, more stable health.
Dogs Have Big Benefits for Children
- Children who have dogs at home are more active. This leads to a more physical and healthier lifestyle.
- Children who owns dogs generally become more nurturing adults.
- Children with pets have higher self-esteem.
- Children with pets have an enhanced immune system and experience less allergies than children who are not around pets.
- Dogs make children feel safe.
Dogs In Hospital and Nursing Homes
- Dogs helped patient become more responsive, alert, and happier.
- Residential dogs in nursing homes resulted in less fatigue, less depression, and increase in vigor for patients.
- Residents of nursing home socialized more with each other when dogs were present.
Dogs Can Prevent Illness and Injury
- A study showed that dog owners experience less minor injuries than non-dog owners.
- Pet owners have lower risk factors for coronary heart disease.
Dogs Can Speed Up Recovery From Illness
- Dog owners are more than 8.6 times more likely to be alive after a heart attack than non-dog owners.
- Pets allow humans to cope better after learning they have a major illness.
- Pets allow humans to feel like they have a sense of support before, during, and after their illness.
- Recently widowed women with dogs are on less medication and experience less symptoms of disease than their non-dog owning counterparts.
Dogs Provide Unspoken Therapy
- Dogs help soldiers cope with post traumatic stress disorder.
- Some programs allow dogs to be trained for the disabled by prisoners. This help boost the prisoners’ self-esteems and teaches them nurturing skills.
- Dogs are a great stress relief for students during exams.
- Patients with schizophrenia feel safer and less stressed with friendly dogs around.
- Dogs provide love and relief from loneliness.
Dogs Help the Disabled
- Dogs are used as service dogs for the blind, deaf, and people with other disabilities.
- They don’t just provide a physical benefit to the disabled, but they also provide companionship and emotional support. They allow the disabled to feel more independent and help with their mobility and confidence.
Medical Detection Dogs
- Some dogs have been trained to look for complications such as epilepsy, diabetes, and cancer due to their acute sense of smell. A dog’s nose is estimated to be from 100 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human nose.
Dogs Help People Be More Social
- Dogs make you get out of the house.
- By walking more, you meet more people and socialize more.
- A study has shown that you appear more likeable if you appear with a dog in a photo than you would with flowers.
It is believed that the reason for why dog owners are generally healthier is because they tend to walk more often and more regularly than non dog-owners. While dog ownership offers countless health benefits, man’s best friend has also been used by humans for other purposes, such as war dogs, rescue dogs, drug detection dogs, and hunting dogs. Of course, dogs aren’t the only pets that provide these health benefits. Cats has also been known to help humans, but the study of dog benefits to humans has been more extensively researched. One study has even shown that people who stare at aquariums with fishes in it experienced lower blood pressure and a decreased heart rate than those who were staring at a blank wall. Both regular and casual interactions with animals can improve the physical and mental well-being of humans.
From being used for protecting farm animals and helping humans hunt for wild animals to being our friends and healers, there is clearly a mutual relationship between humans and dogs. This hypotheses and theory explains why and how our bonds with our dogs and pets are so strong.
The Bond Between Humans and Their Pets
Biophilia Hypothesis – There is an innate bond that humans have with nature and animals. This drives us to connect with them for our physical and mental health. Author Edward Wilson described biophilia as the “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” noting that “to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place greater value on them, and on ourselves.”
Social Support Theory – According to this theory, social support and loneliness are opposites of each other: “loneliness refers to the experience of deficits in social relations; social support refers to the availability of interpersonal resources.” Companionship with our pets helps us with get rid of loneliness and provides us with social support, which is needed for our health.
Humans and dogs have cohabitated for thousands of years and both sides have greatly benefited. They provide us with amazing health advantages and they love us unconditionally. It makes a lot of sense why canines are called man’s best friends.
- Header Image: Tony Harrison (Flickr)
- Co-author: Shoua Kue
- Dogs can discriminate human smiling faces from blank expressions – Animal Cognition
- Service and therapy dogs in American society : science, law and the evolution of canine caregivers – Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society
- Benefits of Human-Dog Relationship – Dogs, Zoonoses and Public Health
- Beneficial effects of pet ownership on some aspects of human health and behaviour – Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
- Understanding Dog-Human Companionship – Journal of Business Research
- The health benefits of dog walking for pets and people: evidence and case studies – Johnson, R. A.; Beck, A. M.; McCune, S.
- Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease – Medical Journal of Australia
- Benefits of Therapy Animals & Healthy Reasons to Have a Pet – Pet Partners
- Going to the Dogs: Prison-Based Training Programs are Win-Win – National Criminal Justice Reference Service
- A long-term study of elderly people in nursing homes with visiting and resident dogs – Applied Animal Behaviour Science
- Animal-Assisted Therapy Enhances Resident Social Interaction and Initiation in Long-Term Care Facilities – Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals
- The Biophilia Hypothesis – Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson
- Social Support: Theory, Research and Applications – Irwin G. Sarason