09 May Benefits Of Owning A Dog (1)
On arriving home after a long, stressful day at work, you are greeted at the door by an overexcited four-legged friend. It can’t fail to put a smile on your face. Pet ownership is undoubtedly one of the greatest pleasures in life, providing companionship and giggles galore. But the benefits do not end there; your pet could be doing wonders for your health and well-being.
Pets can offer a wealth of benefits for health and well-being.
The United States is a nation of animal lovers; more than 65 percent of households own a pet, with dogs and cats being the most popular choice.
It is no surprise that so many of us have a pet in our lives; not only are animals fantastic company, but they also teach us compassion and offer unconditional love.
As British novelist George Eliot once said, “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.”
Adding to pets’ indisputable charm is the wealth of benefits they offer for human health and well-being. We take a closer look at what these are.
1. Lower risk of allergies
Around 50 million people in the U.S. have nasal allergies, and pet dander is one of the most common triggers.
With this in mind, it may come as a surprise that pets could actually lower the risk of developing allergies.
One study reported by Medical News Today in 2015 associated exposure to dogs and farm animals in early life with a lower risk of asthma development by school age.
More recent research published in the journal Microbiome found that children who were exposed to household pets prior to birth and up to 3 months after experienced changes in gut bacteria associated with childhood allergies.
Such studies support the “hygiene hypothesis” – that is, the theory that greater exposure to pathogens and potential allergens at an early age can strengthen the immune system, which may increase tolerance to allergies in later life.
2. Reduced anxiety and stress
The soothing sound of a cat purring or the feeling of “man’s best friend” tucked up against your feet is guaranteed to help one feel at ease, so it may come as no surprise that pets can help to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Studies have shown that pets can help to lower anxiety and stress.
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015 found that children who had pet dogs in their household were significantly less likely to test positive on a screening test for anxiety.
Another study published last month found that children with pet dogs had lower levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol when they interacted with their four-legged companions, compared with children who did not actively engage with their dog.
“Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” explains study leader Darlene Kertes, of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”
But the stress-relieving effects of pets are not limited to canine companions. Research published in 2014 found that riding and caring for horses helped to reduce cortisol levels and ease stress in teenagers.
3. Better heart health
Heart disease is responsible for around 610,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, making it the leading cause of death in the country.
Many of us are aware that good lifestyle choices, such as a healthful diet and regular exercise, are key to reducing risk factors for heart disease. But did you know that your pet could be protecting your heart health, too?
A 2013 scientific statement from the American Heart Association concluded that owning a pet – particularly a dog – may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to study co-author Glenn Levine, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, this finding may be partly explained by increased exercise; studies suggest that dog owners are 54 percent more likely to meet physical activity guidelines, compared with the general population.
The statement also cites evidence that pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and are less likely to be obese, which may benefit their heart health.