5 Ways Dogs Can Improve Our Mental Health

Is there anything better than coming home from a long day to your furry four-legged friend? The wagging tails, happy meows and excited greetings can help make the stress of any day seem lighter. 

Whether you have a dog, cat, bunny, hamster, bird, or any fur-end in between, it’s no secret that our pets can bring immense joy to our lives by providing us with comfort, laughter and motivation.

We work hard to keep our pets happy and healthy, and when it comes to our dogs, there is infinite research available to us for promoting and maintaining canine health.

But did you know that having a dog can improve your physical and mental health too?

More and more research is being conducted to assess the benefits that dogs can have for their humans.

Here are 5 ways that dogs can help improve our mental well-being:

1. Exercise

It’s no surprise that exercise makes it to this list. Exercise has many overall physical health benefits, but it also has the potential to reduce stress and improve mental health. And while many of us equate health with intensive exercise, a simple walk can provide similar results! It is also more common for pet owners to walk their dog through green spaces (i.e. a local park, trail, by water, etc.) rather than busy streets, and it’s been shown that being in nature can also increase positive psychological well-being.

                                                                           Photo by Phil @feelalivenow

2. Companionship

This one may seem obvious, but dogs provide us with companionship – they are a true friend to us. They listen to us when we need to talk, they lay with us when we are sad, and they will get excited for all the things that excite you. Multiple studies have shown that people feel less lonely or isolated when they have a pet, and having a pet help support feelings of self-esteem and self-worth.

Humans are naturally social, and while a dog alone can provide a level of companionship, they are also a source for human-to-human interactions. People love dogs, and so it is not a surprise that when walking with a dog you may encounter people and stop to have short conversations. Dog owners tend to connect when they bring their dogs to the dog park. 

                                                                                      Photo by CJ Infantino

3. Routine

Another way dogs help to improve mental wellbeing is through routine. Every dog owner has their own schedule for walks, pee breaks, feeding times, and playtime with their dogs. It may seem small and insignificant, but routines are highly beneficial for our mental health. A daily routine can minimize stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and can improve your self-esteem and mood.

4. Sensory Stress Relief

The simple act of petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and increase hormone levels that trigger feelings of happiness and calmness. In addition, playing with a dog has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress. We often underestimate the power of touch, but the enormity of its effects on mental wellbeing are clearly displayed through the act of being around our dogs.

                                                                                     Photo by Lydia Torrey 

5. Purpose

Last but not least, dogs can provide us with a sense of self-worth and purpose. By providing for our pets we establish the feeling that we are needed, and this, in turn, nourishes our need to nurture. This is especially important for elderly populations in that walking, grooming, feeding, and taking care of a dog can provide a new sense of purpose. 

The association between dog ownership and mental health is clear, and it’s no wonder that dogs truly are man’s (and woman’s) best friend. 

 

Written by: Hannah Godfrey
Animal Nutritionist
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition
www.tomandsawyer.com

 

References: 

Aydin N et al. 2012. “Man's best friend:” How the presence of a dog reduces mental distress after social exclusion. J Exp Social Psych, 48: 446-449.

Johansson M et al. 2011. Psychological Benefits of Walking: Moderation by Company and Outdoor Environment. Appl Psych: Health Wellbeing, 3: 261-280.

McNicholas J et al. 2005. Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues. BMJ, 331: 1252-1254.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). Physical activity may reduce depression symptoms. Jan 15th, 2019.

Powell L et al., 2018. Expectations for dog ownership: Perceived physical, mental and psychosocial health consequences among prospective adopters. PLoS One

Ramirez MTG & Henandez RL. 2014. Benefits of dog ownership: Comparative study of equivalent samples. J Vet Behav, 9: 311-315.

While A. 2017. Pet dogs as promoters of wellbeing. Brit J Commun Nurs, 22: 332-336.