Think back to a time in the past year (or week!) when you were stressed, sad, or angry. Now think about how your mood changed when you interacted with your dog. You just smiled, didn’t you? Pets provide mental and physical health benefits to their humans, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, but any pet owner knows that their animals go far beyond the ability to just cheer them up on a bad day.
Adria Nassim, who is on the autism spectrum considers Lucy, her service dog, her best friend. And she’s not alone in depending on her dog for more than just basic companionship. For Nassim, Lucy is her “ticket to living without my parents,” she said. “If I didn’t have a service dog I wouldn’t live independently.”
Like Nassim and Lucy, the most loyal best friend duo is the one between a dog owner and their dog.
“Dogs make people happy. They are overall good stress relievers,” Mary Burch, the director of the American Kennel Club Dog Therapy Program said. But dogs do more than just relieve stress.
Here are five ways that owning a pet helps your mental health and overall well-being:
1. Releases “love”
Oxytocin is referred to as the “love hormone”, or the “miracle drug” according to Nancy George-Michalson, the Executive Director of New York Therapy Animals. And love is in no shortage for a dog owner to their dog.
“Oxytocin can serve to reduce stress and increase trust and bonding. Research has shown that petting a dog and gazing into your dog’s eyes while they gaze into yours increases oxytocin levels. One thing is definite – the bond between a dog and its owner is special,” Carly Goteiner, the director of administration at The Good Dog Foundation said.
2. Decreased anxiety
After a long and stressful day, nothing is better to come home to than a dog waiting for you wagging their tail at the door.
“Physical touch is comforting and stimulates oxytocin release. It’s also possible that owning and caring for a pet can serve as a positive distraction from anxiety,” Goteiner said.
3. Increased activity
It is no secret that dogs need a lot of physical activity, and if they don’t have other dogs to play with, they need their human to give them exercise. So while the dog is getting physical activity, so are you.
“For both canines and humans, exercise helps with weight control; it builds and maintains muscle strength, and improves cardiovascular functioning. Exercise improves the emotional state and prevents depression. Dogs who have regular exercise are less likely to have behavioral problems,” Burch says.
4. Improved immune response
When we’re sick all we want to do is snuggle up with our dog, and according to researchers at the University of Arizona, doctors should write us a prescription for it.
According to their Raison Research Dogs as Probiotics – University of Arizona study, dogs “might work as probiotics to enhance the health of the bacteria that live in our guts. We have also learned that children who are raised with dogs are less likely than others to develop a range of immune-related disorders, including asthma and allergies,” according to the Dogs as Probiotics Study.
However, their hypothesis that dogs work as a probiotic turned out to be untrue. But they did find that kids who live on farms and who grow up with animals tend to have a “robust immune system,” Kim Kelly, a research scientist at the University of Arizona said.
5. Lower heart rate and blood pressure
Petting a dog has a calming effect, so it is no surprise that it lowers your heart rate and blood pressure too. “This is because petting helps the person relax and become calmer. Also, petting a dog releases endorphins in the brain,” Burch said.
Not only does petting a dog help the human, but the dog, too. “We know that petting a dog decreases their heart rate,” George-Michalson said.
There are never too many reasons why owning a dog is beneficial, but now with five more, you’ll never stop appreciating the furry member of your family.
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