I grew up with dogs…nine of them to be exact (not all at the same time, although that would have been an adventure). Whether I was hugging my sheltie Danny, crying into his ball of fur about something mean my brother just said about me (sorry Matt), or chasing my dog Rueben across Clemson University after he jumped out of my sunroof while we were driving (yes this really happened). My life literally would not be the same without the dogs I’ve had, and currently have, in my life.
As you can tell, I’m somewhat of a “dog person”…and for good reason. In addition to their loving demeanor and ability to understand humans better than most other humans, dogs can actually make us healthier. Here’s why…
- Dog owners are ~54% more likely to meet the recommended physical activity levels (150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week) compared to non-dog owners (and cat owners). See the figure from Serpell et al. 1991 below for a visual representation of this.
- Owning a dog can lead to a healthier family. Many studies have found that the odds of a child being overweight or obese are lower in families with dogs compared to families without dogs. Although obesity itself doesn’t seem to be correlated with dog ownership, dog walking (as opposed to pet ownership) is associated with lower incidences of obesity. In other words, buying the dog only gets you so far. You’ll need to actually walk it to maintain benefits. I liken this to people who buy new workout clothes and wear them only to shop in…or buy a new treadmill that ends up being a storage shelf for left over Christmas gifts.
- Most studies suggest that owning a dog can lower stress levels. Owning a dog can also lower resting heart rate and blood pressure, smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure in response to stress, and faster recoveries of those parameters under stress.
- Owning a pet may lead to lower mortality rates (aka: dogs save lives). A recent study conducted in an intensive cardiac care unit found that at a one year follow up, those individuals who owned pets (primarily dogs) had a significantly greater chance of surviving; 28% of pet non-owners died compared to only 6% of pet owners. However, conflicting evidence exists, so more research is necessary to conclude that dog ownership leads to improved survival in patients with established cardiovascular disease (CVD).
- Owning a dog can decrease loneliness. One study found that participants who own and live with their pets are more likely to report lower levels of loneliness compared with those who do not own a pet.
- Owning a dog may be more healthy than owning a cat. Dog owners reported significantly less loneliness and significantly more steps per day than cat owners (sorry cat owners).
You may be asking yourself, how exactly can a dog make you healthier? First, owning a dog is believed to increase physical activity through behavioral intention (the dog’s presence has a positive effect on the owners experience and beliefs about walking). Secondly, owning a dog can lead to greater motivation and social support for walking. Lastly, a pet dog can reduce perceived barriers to exercise (ex: being concerned about one’s safety in their neighborhood). Don’t own a dog? No worries. Visit a local animal shelter today and help keep yourself, and shelter dogs, healthy.