With three kids and work responsibility, it’s easy for me to put my health on the back burner. I take dietary shortcuts with fast food and I always have a ready excuse not to exercise. Fortunately, as a dog owner, I enjoy the health benefits of canine companionship. That’s right – having a dog can improve your health. In my case, it’s two dogs: Jack and Penny.
There is a fancy word for this. It’s “zooeyia” – the human health benefits of interacting with animals. Zooeyia is taken from the Greek root words for animal (zoion) and health (Hygeia was the ancient Greek goddess of health, the same source as “hygiene”).
But I knew that having a dog was good for me, long before I knew there was science to back me up. I’ve talked to other dog owners and they have similar stories and it made me think about the many positive impacts a dog can have on our lives. So I started searching online for more information
There is lots of research out there showing how pet ownership has a positive impact on one’s health, but I decided to narrow it down to a large study published 2015 in the Journal of American Family Board of Medicine (JAMFB)and another study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It turns out that the benefits of owning a dog go far beyond companionship.
Here’s what dogs can do for your health:
Foster positive social development in children.
Children with pets show more empathy, self-esteem, cognitive development, and greater participation in social and athletic activities. They’re also more trusting, have a sense of safety, and are more self-confident.
Facilitate social contact
Walking a dog connects you to the community, encouraging social contact between neighbors. Dogs can also motivate us to participate in other casual activities. Over half of dog owners get to know their neighbors as a result of their pet; over 80% end up chatting with other pet owners on their walks. If you want to take Fido on an adventure, North Carolina has over 140 dog-friendly hiking trails to explore.
Reduce the need for medical services
Pets can be part of our social support system. As we age and go to the doctor more, research shows patients without pets report more stress than patients with pets. JAMFB reported that pet ownership among seniors enrolled in Medicare reduced their demand for medical services, alleviating costs to the health care system.
Motivate healthy behavior change.
It is estimated that if adults engaged in 60 minutes of physical activity per day, 33% of all deaths related to coronary heart disease, 25% of deaths related to stroke, 20% of deaths related to type 2 diabetes, and 20% of deaths related to hypertension would be avoided. According to JAMFB dog ownership is a reliable motivator to physical activity. Children with dogs spend more time in vigorous physical activity and take more steps per day than those without pets. Dog owners participate in about 300 minutes a week of moderate activity, compared with the average 170 minutes a week of non–dog owners People who walk their dogs are more likely to maintain any weight loss over a year.
Reduce chances of allergies
A growing number of researchers, including James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, are reporting that owning pets may reduce a child’s risk of allergies and asthma.
This infographic with data from the JAMFB report shows the benefits of owning a dog through all stages of your life. I think this sums it up best!
Please remember dog ownership also comes with a lot of responsibility. Make sure before you adopt a dog that you consider these helpful tips from the American Kennel Association and please consider adopting from a local shelter.
If this motivates you to adopt a dog or you already have a dog, check back soon. I’ll be sharing my top five dog friendly spots in North Carolina.