Any pet owner can tell you that your pet is good for your health. Pet care, simply enough, is also self-care. But you may not be aware of just how big an impact your favorite non-human has on your well-being. There are plenty of ways your dog can help you get healthy, and you don’t always have to be moving to reap the biggest rewards.
1. Improve cardiovascular health
Dogs are good for the heart because they make a person get out there and walk and exercise and play with them, an effort that will help keep your weight in check. Some studies have shown that dog owners even had a better survival rate one year after a heart attack than non-pet owners. Maybe that’s because pets are a path to lower blood pressure for their owners. After all, who doesn’t love a good cuddle with their warm, furry, cozy dog? That can stabilize just about any heart rate. (And, as an aside, cat owners seem to have fewer strokes than people who don’t own cats.)
2. Minimize stress, anxiety, and depression
Dogs are built-in entertainment and mood enhancers, and they are also an automatic calming presence, especially if you’re petting a dog. Anxiety and stress are known to diminish as you watch your pet. Cortisol, the stress hormone, goes down and serotonin production goes up. For the many people who struggle with depression, some mental health professionals prescribe pet ownership to help minimize and deal with this disease. The unconditional love from a pet and their unlimited willingness to listen to you talk are so beneficial. And, of course, the act of caring for a pet is one that helps depressed individuals focus on something and someone outside of themselves, which is a very good thing.
3. Increase stamina and strength
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise because it is a weight-bearing exercise. This movement, which likely increases when you have a four-legged friend to walk, helps strengthen a person’s bones and muscles. Working on developing strong bones in younger years by walking – and getting out into the sunshine and sucking up some Vitamin D – can help prevent osteoporosis in later years.
You are likely to have better physical fitness in general when you are a pet owner because you simply have to be more active to keep up with your dog and ensure that he gets the care he needs. Even a 30-minute walk once a day lets you meet the minimum requirements for healthy physical activity, and chances are you’re walking more than this with your dog anyway. Some people even incorporate their pets into their exercise routine.
4. Enhance your lifestyle
Loneliness, isolation, working too much – there are any number of reasons that people don’t have the complete lifestyle they want. A dog can help you achieve it. How can one more responsibility give you more time? Because you’re forced to care for another being, and that means thinking about life outside of the office, making time to socialize your pet – and thus get some socialization yourself in the process. Connecting with other people while you tend to your pet’s needs will help your own health blossom and give you a better quality of life.
5. Manage health problems
Dogs are amazing creatures, and some are even “employed” to help people with specific health problems. Some dogs can recognize a drop in blood glucose levels and alert diabetics that they need to tend to their insulin. Other canines are trained to help people with epilepsy who experience seizures, either by alerting someone else about the seizure occurring, or lying next to or over the person having a seizure to prevent them from harming themselves. And still more dogs work with individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease to help them maintain their independence, even if they have a little four-legged help to turn on the light or open and close doors.
Trying to decide what dog is right for your family? Talk to your vet at the Northpointe Veterinary Hospital in Yuba City, CA, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if you plan to get a puppy, make sure your conversation includes discussion about spaying and neutering.