10 Surprising Health Benefits of Having a Dog

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Having a Dog

A steady supply of cute pictures for your Instagram feed is just one of the many benefits of having a dog in your life.

But aside from building a social following and giving you the green light to let your baby-talk flag fly, there are real physical and emotional benefits to having a pet.

We’ve focused on dogs here — since they are man’s (and woman’s) best friend, after all — but other animals can boost your health, too.

“Horse lovers swear by horses, cat lovers swear by cats, and dog lovers swear by dogs,” for a good reason, notes Dr. Clare Albright, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who practices in Lake Forest, CA. They’re all beneficial!

Whether you have a four-legged BFF already or are considering adopting one, here’s a list of some of the benefits of having a dog.

1. Increase your health span

Our lifespan is how long we live, but our healthspan is perhaps more important because it describes how long we’re healthy.

(Think: Surviving versus thriving.)

Having and walking a dog may help increase your health span.

One study found that older adults (primarily in their 70s and 80s) not only got more exercise but also experienced fewer limitations to their daily living and required fewer doctor’s visits.

Woman hiking with her dog

2. Keep you active

Let’s be honest: You likely go above and beyond to care for your pooch. That means knowing the foods to avoid feeding your pet, being able to identify their favorite toy, and walking them regularly.

“For those who are less inclined to be physically active, dogs give their owners a reason to get outside for a walk, hike, or other dog-friendly aerobic activity,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and the author of “Joy from Fear”.

After all, it’s a responsibility (since dogs need it) and not “exercise.”

3. Lower your blood pressure

You may not realize how calming your pet is, especially if your furry friend is energetic and playful.

But studies have found that owners of dogs (and cats) have lower heart rates and blood pressure than people who don’t have pets.

Researchers believe this calming effect is because we view our pets as supportive parts of our lives, similar to friends and spouses.

Young man laying on the bed with his dog.

4. Counteract loneliness

“People who are isolated often feel extremely lonely,” Dr. Manly explains. “Having a dog — an animal friend and companion — can make every difference in the life of those who feel very alone.”

During lockdowns and social distancing, having a puppy pal around was a great way to feel less alone.

5. Makes it easier to meet people…

Dogs are more than four-legged friends. They can also help you make human friends.

One study found that pets can spark several different kinds of social interaction, such as neighborhood run-ins (like when your dog wants to meet another dog) and meetings that lead to supportive friendships.

The study looked at several types of pets, and dog owners were the quickest to consider befriending people they met because of their furry companions.

Couple with dog getting ready for a run

6. …And maybe a significant other

Men got more phone numbers from women when they had a dog with them, according to a series of studies.

OK, so that’s not one of the primary benefits of having a dog, but if you’re single and ready to mingle, a pet is a great way to break the ice with new people!

It could show potential partners you are loving, responsible, and caring.

Woman playing with dog at hom

7. Boost your playfulness

“Dogs can promote a sense of play for more serious-minded owners,” says Dr. Manly.

That can take the form of catch and fetch, or laughing at your dog’s silly behaviors.

Small games of tug-of-war have the added benefit of being an easy way to stay active at home.

8. Provide unconditional love

“Many people say that they find it hard to find a human who loves them unconditionally like their dog does,” says Dr. Albright.

It’s also an easy relationship, adds Dr. Manly: “A relationship with one’s dog is free of the negativity, expectations, and disappointments that often make human relationships rather challenging.”

Woman cuddling with dog on couch

9. Lower your stress and anxiety

Petting a dog (or a cat) for just 10 minutes can be enough to lower stress levels, one study found. You may get a bigger boost from staring Fido in the eyes, too.

Making eye contact with dogs makes your body release oxytocin, sometimes called “the love hormone.”

This hormone can lower anxiety levels and even slow your heart rate. It even does the same for your dog!

10. Help you maintain or lose weight

And now for the final of our benefits of having a dog: Movement isn’t all about weight loss, but being more active can benefit your waistline.

One small study found that people who walked “loaner dogs” that weren’t theirs for about a year lost an average of 14 pounds!