The Scientific Advantages of Dog Ownership

Apr 10, 2024

Dogs have long been regarded as a person’s best friend, but the human health benefits of dog ownership – which most owners regarded as intuitively true but could not necessarily prove – were recently validated by a massive scientific study.

As reported by CNN, a 2019 analysis of nearly 4 million people in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom found dog ownership was associated with:

  • A 24% reduction in dying early from any cause
  • A 34% reduction in dying from cardiovascular disease, even if the owner had already suffered a heart attack or stroke
  • Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared to survivors who did not own a dog
  • Stroke survivors living alone with a dog had a 27% reduced risk of death

These findings tend to support what many of us already believe. The American Heart Association (AHA) cites research that found pet owners who walk their dogs get up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-dog-walkers.

And the AHA even recommends various ways to get active with your dog: as in take your dog on a picnic. Pack some healthy snacks such as fruit, veggies, mixed nuts etc. for yourself, and a few dog treats for Fido along with plenty of water for both of you – include a portable water bowl for the pup too. Also bring a ball or other fun toys. The AHA suggests:

  • Join your kids and dog in the sprinklers. “When it’s hot, grab swimsuits and sunscreen and run around in the cooling spray with your kids and pooch,” the AHA said, or go for a swim in a dog-friendly beach or pool.
  • The AHA suggests you join local fundraising walks or fun runs that include dogs or play “fetch or keep-away” with your dog. “Even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes, you and your dog will get some exercise and bonding time.”

10 Health Benefits

Psychologist Harold Herzog, a pet-loving professor at Western Carolina University who has long studied the human-animal connection, offers a list of 10 health benefits of dog ownership:

  1. Higher survival rates.
  2. Fewer heart attacks.
  3. Less loneliness.
  4. Better blood pressure.
  5. Better psychological well-being.
  6. Lower rates of depression and stress levels.
  7. Fewer doctor visits.
  8. Increased self-esteem.
  9. Better sleep.
  10. More physical activity.

Studies have shown repeatedly that people’s good mood increases and bad mood decreases around pets.

Herzog was quoted as believing. “And so, we know that there’s immediate short-term benefits, physiological and psychological, with interacting with pets. I have no doubt about that.”

10 Lifestyle Benefits

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has distilled the lifestyle benefits of dog ownership based on a wide range of research. Their conclusions are as follows:

  1. Dogs make us feel less alone.
  2. Dogs are good for your heart.
  3. Dogs help you stop stressing out.
  4. Dogs help us cope with crises.
  5. Dogs encourage you to move.
  6. Dogs make you more attractive—even virtually.
  7. Dogs make us more social.
  8. Dogs are so adorable they make us love them.
  9. Dogs make us happier.
  10. Dogs help seniors with cognitive function and social interaction.

Benefits for Seniors

We found that last point (#10) especially encouraging. The AKC reported these findings: “Studies exploring the effects of dogs on seniors found positive results. One study found that pet therapy improves the cognitive function of residents with mental illness in long-term care. Another study showed significant decreases in agitated behaviors in seniors with dementia and improved social interactions.”

A Final Word From the AKC

“A four-footed best friend provides unconditional love and support, which is especially important during tough times.

Though people may think we’re taking care of our canine companions, it’s mutual: Dogs take care of us, and science confirms it.”

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