Nothing lifts your mood like coming home to a wagging tail. Even after a long day of work, spending just a few minutes with your dog instantly makes you feel better and it isn’t just your imagination. Scientific studies show that owning a dog has a very real capacity to benefit your mental health.
Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, or loneliness, owning and caring for a dog can boost your mood, relieve stress, and even improve your outlook on life. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the scientific evidence supporting the mental health benefits of owning a dog. You’ll also learn some simple ways to throw your dog a bone in appreciation for their love.
6 Scientifically Proven Ways Dogs Benefit Your Mental Health
According to new statistics released by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), more than 70 percent of American households own a pet - that’s about 90.5 million families. Not only has dog ownership increased dramatically over the past few decades, but people have begun to treat their pets less like companion animals and more like members of the family.
Having such a close relationship with your pet is bound to impact your life in numerous ways. Studies show that pet ownership does, in fact, affect your mental health as well as your physical health. We’ll explore the research behind this claim below.
Here are 6 ways owning a dog can benefit your mental health:
- Relief from stress and anxiety. Dogs can have a calming effect on your mind and spirit by boost dopamine and serotonin production. Spending just a few minutes interacting with a pet can help relieve stress and improve your mood overall.
- Reduced symptoms of depression. By boosting production of oxytocin in the brain, owning a pet can relieve symptoms of mental health issues like depression. In fact, studies show that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet-owners.
- Improved outlook on life. Whether you have a diagnosed mental disorder or not, we could all use a little more positivity in our lives. Studies show that spending more time in nature and interacting with animals can improve your outlook on life as well as your ability to cope with stress and grief.
- More structure in life. Pets thrive on routine and it turns out that keeping up with your pet’s routine can be beneficial for your own. Between regular meals, walks, and playtime, developing a routine with your pet provides stability and may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Healthier interpersonal relationships. Not only can owning a pet result in spending more time with other people, but it can affect the way you interact with those people. Pet owners develop empathy, patience, and compassion which can help strengthen your relationships.
- Unconditional love. The best gift pets give is their unconditional love. You don’t have to do anything or even ask to receive it - it’s freely given. Simply having that constant love in your life can lift your spirits and bolster your mental defenses against stress.
Not only can owning and caring for a pet boost your mental health, but it may have a positive effect on your overall health as well. Studies suggest that owning a pet is associated with improvements in cardiovascular health markers and reduced risk for heart attack. Owning a pet may lower blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol to contribute to improved cardiovascular health overall.
Show Your Pet a Little Extra Love
Your pet provides unconditional love and unending affection without asking for anything in return. It’s your responsibility as a pet owner to provide for your pet’s basic needs, but being a good pet owner is more than that. It’s about keeping your pet happy and healthy - being just as much a positive influence on your life as they are on yours.
Here are some simple ways to show your pet a little extra love:
- Dedicate 30 minutes a day to play. Playtime is important for pets, both as a form of physical exercise and as a bonding opportunity. Be sure to include variety in playtime with different toys, games, and training sessions.
- Surprise your dog with a tasty treat. There’s no better way to show your pet you care than with a tasty treat. Bully sticks and gullet sticks are a healthy, safe alternative to rawhide and they come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and flavors.
- Provide your dog with puzzle toys. Mental stimulation is essential for pets and puzzle toys are a great way to give your pet’s brain a workout. Puzzle toys can also be a simple way to encourage a pet with a voracious appetite to eat a little more slowly.
- Give your dog a comfy bed. We all deserve a comfortable play to rest our heads at the end of the day and your pet is no exception. Show them a little extra love by indulging them in a new bed or a cozy blanket just for them.
- Do a little bit of training. While training may seem like work, it’s an opportunity to spend time with your pet and to strengthen your bond. Load up on tasty treats like bully stick bites to use for positive reinforcement during training.
With or without a dog to keep you company, life can be rough. If you find yourself struggling with mental health issues like stress, anxiety, or depression consider seeking support. While your dog is always available for emotional support, an online psychiatrist could help you develop the coping skills you need to get through tough times.
This post was last updated at June 6, 2023 11:30