Last Updated on May 6, 2023 by Dogs Vets
Five Mental Health Benefits of Having a Dog
This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
We know they can be cute and cuddly, but what if dogs also could help us stay mentally healthy? If this sounds too good to be true, you might be surprised.
In fact, some research indicates that having a dog actually improves your mental health and overall well-being – from helping us exercise to regulating our stress hormones, our canine buddies may bring with them a whole host of mental health benefits. And that means great news for those of us who love our furry companions.
Mental Health Benefits of Having a Dog
A growing number of studies show that having a dog can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, along with generally improving overall quality of life.
Just like physical exercise, the practice of mindfulness, talk therapy – including BetterHelp online therapy – and other forms of self-care, having a dog for a pet may be a key way we can contribute to our own well-being.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key ways having a dog can support your mental health.
Dogs Make Us Exercise
Unless you live on the wild and open prairie, chances are, your dog doesn’t have acres on which to run free. So that means you’re probably taking her out for a walk on a regular basis. Not only does your dog benefit from this practice, but you do, too.
You gain the benefits of a walk around the neighborhood, which may include enjoying some fresh air, stepping away from stressful situations, improving your physical health, managing your weight and enjoying better sleep.
In fact, there’s a strong connection between exercise and mental health, so every minute you spend outside exercising with your pup, the more mental health benefits you’re likely to enjoy.
Dogs Help Build Community
Having a dog not only provides you with a canine companion, but it also can help you broaden your human social circle.
Dog parks, pet supply stores, community festivals or parades, and many other events and locations provide an opportunity for dog owners to get together and to talk about their beloved pets.
You can even meet more of your neighbors just by taking your dog on a walk around the block.
In fact, some studies indicate that pet owners are more likely than others to meet the people in their neighborhood. And meeting more people means you’re more likely to build social connections, which in turn support your mental health.
Dogs Provide a Sense of Purpose
Having a dog can contribute to an overall sense of purpose and decrease feelings of loneliness, according to some studies. This may be because dogs bring with them responsibility – taking care of and ensuring the safety of an animal provides many people with a sense of empowerment.
We have to feed our dogs, walk them, groom them, provide veterinary care for them, along with staying attuned to their needs. Even when you feel low, caring for your dog – and feeling his affection in return – is a powerful way to maintain purpose. Our dogs need us – and that provides a powerful psychological benefit.
Dogs Help Release Feel-Good Hormones
According to the American Heart Association, simply playing with a dog may increase levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine. This, in turn, creates positive feelings and strengthens the bonds between a person and their pet.
In addition, spending time with a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol, which also contributes to an overall feeling of positivity and peace. According to some research, interacting with a dog may even help control pain.
Dogs Buffer Against Negative Emotions
Having a dog not only may increase positive emotions, but the companionship of your dog may also help protect you against common negative emotions.
Studies have shown that people experiencing mental health issues including depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and more have experienced a lessening of symptoms after interacting with a dog. So all those doggy kisses and snuggles can have a real impact on our overall well-being.
Dogs aren’t called man’s best friend for nothing.
Whether you’re looking for a companion, trying to get more exercise or just love the emotional high that comes with snuggling a puppy, the science seems clear that having a dog brings with it tremendous benefits – more than enough benefits, in fact, to make up for the shedding fur and the chewed-up shoes. We promise.
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