Dogs are a source of comfort and companionship for many people in the United States and worldwide. In the United States, over 38 percent of households are shared by one or more dogs. Owners often report that their bonds with their pets help them deal with life’s challenges, providing them with a constant source of affection and love.
Travis Justin Sneed, a clinical forensic and neuropsychologist from San Jose, California, shares how dogs can be beneficial to their owners’ mental and emotional health and affect their physical health for the better.
The Overall Health Benefits of Dog Ownership
In a surprising medical study, dog owners living alone were 33 percent less likely to die after having a heart attack. Dog owners have one-third the risk of diabetes as well.
Dog owners have a better blood pressure than non-dog owners. They need to visit the doctor less frequently. They get better sleep.
Some of these benefits can be extended to the ownership of other types of pets, including cats, but the health benefits are most pronounced with dogs due to the increase in physical activity that dogs induce.
How Dogs Help with Mental Health
Loneliness is an epidemic in American society. Dog owners report far less loneliness than people who do not have pets. Loneliness and social isolation are associated with damage to mental health. When people have dogs, they have a source of unconditional love and companionship that helps to keep them insulated from the social and health effects of feeling lonely and isolated.
Dogs have been especially important in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people accustomed to working outside the home every day were negatively affected by lockdowns and working from home. Having a dog helped people adjust to being at home all day and enhanced family life.
Since dogs need to be walked regularly, they encourage their owners to get outside and exercise. Exercise benefits mental health by enhancing the brain chemicals known as endorphins. It helps people with heart health, which has been known to be associated with poor mental health outcomes.
Many emotional support animals in the press have been negative stories of the system being abused by irresponsible pet owners. Still, people who have these animals do stand to benefit a great deal. People with serious mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia are also helped by dog ownership. In some cases, another person should help manage the dog’s care if the owner with mental illness finds themselves unable to do so.
Overall, dog ownership stands to bring major benefits to people with mental illness. Travis Justin Sneed reminds potential dog owners that they will benefit from the love and affection shown by these pets every day.
How Dogs Enhance Emotional Health
Dogs increase a person’s self-esteem. Even when a person feels that the world is against them, they are lovable in the eyes of their dog. Having a ready source of love and appreciation in daily life can help people feel more resilient and ready to face life’s challenges.
Providing care makes people indispensable to their dogs. Feeling indispensable also protects self-esteem. Having a strong sense of responsibility makes people more likely to think of themselves as competent and strong.
Dog ownership also increases owners’ empathy. This is especially true among children. Dog owners need to be attuned to their pets’ needs and respond as needed. Empathy skills learned when associating with dogs can also be applied to human situations.
Dogs build a strong sense of responsibility, especially in children. They learn that dogs have many physical needs and affection and companionship. While children should not be solely responsible for any pet, helping with the daily activities that keep the dog healthy and happy is beneficial.
Dog owners have many opportunities to socialize with other “dog people.” Taking a dog to the dog park or going on walks may lead to making new friends. People who have dogs often feel instant bonds with other dog owners since they can relate to what is important in their lives.
The Joys of Dog Ownership
Having a dog is associated with better emotional, mental, and physical health. Travis Justin Sneed encourages all people to look into the potential benefits of dog ownership and decide whether they have room for a dog in their home and their family.
People interested in getting a dog should also know that dog ownership is generally a 15-year commitment. Many dogs have been abandoned after the worst months of the pandemic as their owners have gone back to work and no longer have time to care for their pets. Potential dog owners need to look long and hard at their capacity for responsibility and make an informed decision about getting a pet.
When you choose to add a dog to your household, you will reap the social, emotional, mental, and physical benefits. Dogs enhance people’s lives, and you will find that your dog has become an indispensable part of your life.