Every dog has his day, and today, on National Dog Day, we celebrate our favorite four-legged friends and the many ways they enrich our lives. While dogs boost our mood and alleviate loneliness, the health benefits of pet ownership are much more extensive and profound. In fact, a growing body of scientific research indicates that dog owners have improved cardiovascular health, lower stress levels, and enhanced mental health.
A recent study published by The Mayo Clinic determined that dog owners have lower obesity rates, better lipid profiles, and lower systemic blood pressure, all which reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.1 While there are benefits to pet ownership in general, dogs most positively influence health due to the increased physical activity from regular walking and play. According to the study, those with dogs reported physical activity at ideal levels and exhibited higher cardiovascular health scores than non-pet owners.
Additionally, studies show that dogs provide a calming influence that contributes to positive mental health. The simple act of petting a dog calms the nerves and decreases blood pressure and heart rate. As a matter of fact, many hospitals and universities engage in animal visitation programs and make dogs available to patients and students to alleviate stress. One study revealed that spending only ten minutes a day petting a dog significantly reduced cortisol, the primary stress hormone.2 Interestingly, even dog-owning patients who have already suffered a cardiac incident showed a risk reduction for death, as the bond with their dogs significantly reduced stress, a major cause of cardiovascular issues.
Finally, dogs provide companionship and prevent the mental health issues tied to social isolation. During the COVID-19 quarantine, an estimated 11.38 million U.S. households purchased a new pet, primarily to provide entertainment and fill the void left from reduced social interaction.3 According to the American Veterinary Association, 3 out of 4 pet owners reported that spending time with their dog or other pets reduced their stress and increased their sense of well-being during the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic and in less stressful times, dogs provide loyal and devoted companionship and help ward off loneliness.
So, today and every day, let’s celebrate our favorite four-legged friends and the many ways they improve our lives!
Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center
1Magueri, A., PhD, Medina-Inojosa, MD, Kunzova, S. MD, Agodi, A. PhD. et. al. (2019) Dog Ownership and Cardiovascular Health: Results from the Kardiovize Study (2019). Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Vol.3, Issue 3.
2Pendry, P. and Vandagriff, J.L. (2019). Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Washington State University.
3Pets Remain in High Demand During Covid (2020). American Veterinary Association.