Nearly everybody will smile when they’re petting a dog. If the dog happens to plant a big kiss right on your hands or face, you will probably laugh and giggle, even while pushing the dog away. Did you know that dogs can bring more than a smile to your face, though? Science shows that they actually improve your health.
One Autistic Teen
For years, one autistic teen named Cadence wanted a service dog. Knowing that this dog would improve the teen’s self-esteem and anxiety, Cadence’s mother applied for one over and over again. Every time, her mother kept telling Cadence the sad response—no.
While Cadence has high function as an autistic girl, she still struggles with emotions sometimes. Cadence needed the unconditional love of a dog to balance those moments and bring her that smile. After four years of lowered spirits and let-downs, Cadence finally got a service dog, and the teen couldn’t have been more excited.
The Health Benefits of Dog Ownership
For Cadence, a service dog will help improve her emotional health, and ultimately the physical side too. Still, Cadence isn’t the only one who will benefit from owning a dog. Here are just a few ways that dogs can boost your health and bring you happiness:
Dogs Strengthen Your Heart
According to the American Heart Association, dogs can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. There could be several reasons for the lowered risk, including the time spent exercising the dog and the distraction from work or family stress.
Although the AHA has not been able to link dog ownership and heart disease conclusively, studies do show that dog owners have better heart health.
Dogs Lower Stress
Remember how dogs make you laugh and smile as you pet them? Ultimately, those lighthearted laughs will lower your stress levels.
A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia revealed that petting a dog causes your body to release those “happy hormones,” including serotonin and oxytocin. At the same time, a dog will also lower the stress hormone cortisol.
In one Missouri study, scientists tested the hormone levels of dog owners and non-owners alike. They found that people received the most benefit (through increased serotonin levels) when petting their own dogs. Also, simply stroking the dog for 15-30 minutes lowered the participants’ blood pressure by 10 percent.
Dogs Boost Immunity
If you have children, owning a dog can work in your favor, fending off the onset of allergies. Published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, one study showed that infants exposed to a pet before the six-month mark have a decreased risk of allergies. They also have a decreased risk for hay fever, eczema, and upper respiratory infections too.
In addition, dogs may help balance out and boost your gut health. Because dogs have many different types of beneficial bacteria, owning one will expose you to them.
As you take your dog outside during the day, it will also pick up organisms from outdoors. Simply put, you will definitely benefit from exposure to your dog’s healthy bacteria.
Treat Dogs Humanely.
In light of how much dogs can benefit their human companions, you would think that people would treat them with kindness. Unfortunately, thousands of dogs are mistreated, neglected, and killed across the world every year.
While you might think that animal cruelty means nothing for humans, you might be surprised. Many criminals who have committed violent and grotesque acts against humans actually started with animals.
Even if animal abusers did not turn into human offenders, you should still find the abuse appalling. When a person adopts a dog into his home, he is communicating that he will take responsibility for the dog’s care.
The dog will give him love, but what will he receive in return? For abusive owners, the dog will find himself neglected, beaten, and even killed inhumanely in exchange. If you know a dog in an abusive situation, you should not tolerate it. Find help immediately and protect man’s loving best friend.
If you choose to open up your home to a dog, take responsibility for it. Get all the benefits of a healthy immune system, lowered blood pressure, and reduced stress. Then, give it the love and attention it deserves, and you’ll find an unconditional friendship that lasts a lifetime.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.