How Owning a Dog Makes You Healthier

dog and owner playing

If you're considering becoming a dog owner, you probably don't need many reasons beyond "unconditional love" and "being the most popular person in the park." But it turns out that your four-legged friend will actually do way more for you than invite strangers to strike up unsolicited conversations. They will even improve your health.

Don't take my word for it; check out the science that backs up these claims, and make this your excuse to finally take the puppy plunge.

muddy dog
Cindy Hughes/Shutterstock

Owning a dog boosts your immune system

Dogs are notorious explorers. This means they like to get into shit that they're not supposed to. Whether that's digging a hole in the ground or tearing up last night's scraps in the garbage, they're bound to pick up dirt along the way.

Well, a little dirt is good for you! It signals your immune system to start producing protection against weird, foreign germs. So having a dog gives you a natural immunity boost without the burn of hand sanitizer. All you have to do is pet them and keep up with those belly rubs.

bulldog and owner
ChickenStock Images/Shutterstock

It helps prevent loneliness

Dogs are social creatures (no surprise there). Their idea of fun is the complete opposite of Netflix and chill. They need to leave the house and explore, or their energy will turn to biting your prized collection of kicks.

Unless you live on a farm, you're going to be your dog's trusty walking partner when you take them out for exercise in your neighborhood. Not only will you be leaving the couch way more, but you're going to become more social. You'll meet people from the block on your walks and let your dog socialize with the neighborhood puppy gang.
Before you get all angsty and say that you hate meeting new people, consider this: pet owners are usually "less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners."

It's good for your heart (not just because of the walks)

On top of having mood-boosting effects, dogs can also help keep your ticker in working order, and you need that. Scientists found that high-blood-pressure patients who owned a pet could keep their blood pressure lower during stressful times than their pet-free high-blood-pressure counterparts. Another study reported that pet parents had a higher chance of survival one year following a heart attack.

Now, this won't help you survive Naked and Afraid, but it's still promising to see if you have a history of heart disease in your family.

boy and his dog

It helps prevent asthma and allergies

If you're trying to convince your partner to adopt a dog together, point out that you're thinking about your (future) kids.

One Swedish study found that if you grow up with a dog during your first two years of life, you're 77% less likely to develop allergies to nasty buggers like dust mites, grass, ragweeds, and, you guessed it, pets. This study also uncovered that kids with pets had a 13% lower risk of asthma. So basically you NEED a dog if you want healthy kids.

It helps relieve pain

Finally, dogs are incredible for pain-fighting relief, which, sadly, does not count for hangovers. Fibromyalgia patients have reported less pain and fatigue after just 10 to 15 minutes with a therapy dog, compared to those who didn't spend time with a dog.

While that's pretty impressive, most people don't have fibromyalgia. Fortunately, dogs can have the same effect on regular old pain: after surgery, patients who have access to a pet wind up using less pain medication than those who don't.

Now that you know who's really responsible for keeping you healthy, it's time to visit your local animal shelter and rescue the dog who's going to help you get your life on track. If you already have a dog, thank them for their hard work and give them some much-needed attention. Go for an extra walk or extend your tug-of-war time today.

Oh, one more thing. Don't get upset that your dog doesn't pay rent and expects only the best food money can buy. After all, their full-time job of keeping you healthy means they need to stay around for a while.

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Devan Ciccarelli is a writer and marketing specialist who will probably spend more time talking to your dog than you. If you want her undivided attention, you can find her on Twitter: @DevanCiccarelli.