World Pet Month | Six Ways Dogs Improve Our Wellbeing

World Pet Month: Six ways dogs improve our wellbeing

It’s National Pet Month in the U.S.! To celebrate our beloved dogs, Muscle and Health uncovers nine ways our pooches improve our physical and mental well-being.

The power of our furry friends knows no bounds.

Take a stroll down your local park or open up Instagram, and you will likely be greeted and bombarded with pictures, memes, GIFs and videos of dogs that leave you with no choice but to let out an external noise of glee.

A feeling of exhaustion after returning home from a long day at the office can be erased immediately upon witnessing the joy of your beloved canine wagging its tail at the speed of sound, tongue oscillating, and eyes full to the brim with pure happiness.

Think Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men In Black wiping the memories of unsuspecting public members who witnessed extraterrestrial beings. Dogs act as our very own neuralyzer, vanquishing any negative thoughts we may be clinging to – minus the alien life form.

In simple terms, our pets play a major part in the lives of millions, and scientific research shows that human-animal interactions can have a powerful impact on mental, physical and social health for individuals, families and entire communities.

Unsurprisingly, as of 2023, 66% of U.S. households – that’s 86.9 million homes – own a pet, a significant increase from 1988 when only 56% of U.S. households owned a pet.

As well as offering a recurring warm greeting, showers of love and snuggles to oven-cook even the coldest souls, dogs can significantly benefit our physical and mental health.

The benefits of pets are so profound that some believe we should view them as a low-cost, high-reward public health strategy. 

Data has revealed that owners can feel the health benefits of being in a dog’s presence after just half an hour, but what benefits are we looking at? 

Muscle and Health During World Pet Month, pick out the six to bark about and how dogs improve our wellbeing.

Dogs reduce stress and anxiety

Research has shown that simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while the social interaction between people and their dogs increases the feel-good hormone oxytocin – the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies.

An astonishing 84 percent of post-traumatic stress disorder patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms, and 40 percent were able to decrease their medications, reported a recent survey.

Dogs reduce stress and anxiety

Jo Cummings, a behavioral psychologist at, cites that being outside and often in nature” has “such a beneficial effect.

“It’s decreasing our cortisol, which is our stress hormone, and it really helps to increase feel-good hormones like oxytocin and serotonin. It’s great for psychological health.”

A study commissioned by Washington State University found that animal comfort can have a “significant impact” on stress levels. In as little as 10 minutes, interacting with animals was found to cause a significant reduction of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.

Brain scans of dogs at Emory University demonstrated that dogs are especially sensitive to human cues – helping to explain why their companionship is so meaningful – they are tuned into us in ways other humans may not be.

Dogs help reduce stress at home, but they can also reduce stress in the workplace. A study by Virginia Commonwealth University also investigated the employee experience when dogs were allowed to come to the office.

It found people were measurably less stressed when dogs were present. This was true of the dog owners and coworkers working around the dogs during the day. Less stress equals increased productivity; increased productivity leads to better output.

Dogs combat loneliness

A 2011 study found that pet owners had better self-esteem, while another study determined that pets provided greater social support than humans in mitigating depression. “Caring for a pet provides a sense of purpose to the owner,” says Jeremy Barron, M.D., medical director of the Beacham Center for Geriatric Medicine at Johns Hopkins.

Plus, pets are a good social catalyst for meeting people who share your animal interests. Dogs can be a bridge to other humans, helping you meet people, connect and bond, providing a signal of common interest and an opening for a conversation.

A study by the University of Chicago found incidental connections – a quick exchange with the person in line for coffee or a brief chat with the pet parent in the dog park – can contribute to happiness.

Your dog can be a source of connection with anyone, including colleagues. You see your coworker’s dog on camera during your virtual meeting, or you hear them discussing the appointment they’ve made at the vet. These are fodder for points of discussion and connection, which can create the conditions for happiness in your work.

A study by BARC London found that 92% of UK dog owners surveyed feel their dogs have helped with combating loneliness, while 67% reported they never feel lonely or isolated when with their dog/s.

To further establish the theory of dogs helping humans develop and build new connections, BARC also found that four in five people formed new human relationships from owning a dog.

Dogs make you fitter

Dogs contribute to physical health because of the physical activity that tends to go along with ownership – taking them for walks and even attending to their needs around the house. In addition, petting a dog reduces blood pressure, and it can help with pain management by distracting people from their own physical or emotional conditions.

Research demonstrates that pet owners have lower blood pressure, are more likely to achieve the recommended levels of daily exercise and are less likely to be obese. In addition, children with pets are more likely to be physically active.

BARC’s study revealed 79% of owners felt their dog/s helped them keep fit and healthy by leading more active lifestyles, with one in two motivated to own a dog to keep active.

Researchers at Michigan State University found that dog owners are 34% more likely to fit 150 minutes of walking into a week than non-dog owners. They also found that average dog owners walked 22 more minutes per day than non-owners. 

The Harvard Medical School states that daily walks of 20 minutes or more can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%. Health experts have touted time and time again that the faster, further and more frequently you walk, the greater benefits.

Dogs provide structure and routine.

Dogs require regular feeding, an exercise schedule, and a consistent routine that keeps them balanced and calm – and it can work for owners, too. No matter your mood, one plaintive look from your pet, and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.

Dogs provide structure and routine

There are other indicators that dogs are particularly helpful to older people. An HMS report cites a year-long study from Canada that found elderly dog parents to be more capable of performing daily activities, such as dressing and feeding themselves.

This is likely because seniors are reminded to take care of themselves in attending to their pups. They also have a structure in place, thanks to the need for regular pet meal times and walks, which reinforces their own self-care habits.

Dogs lower blood pressure and heart disease

Several studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners — probably because their pets have a calming effect on them and because dog owners tend to get more exercise. The power of touch also appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure decreases when a person pets a dog.

There is some evidence that owning a dog is associated with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A large study focusing on this question found that dog owners had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-owners and that these differences weren’t explainable by diet, smoking, or body mass index (BMI).

Dogs’ calming effect on humans also appears to help people handle stress. For example, some research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.

Dogs offer loyal companionship and purpose

Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for an animal can help make you feel needed and wanted and take the focus away from your problems, especially for those who live alone. 

Most dog owners talk to their pets; some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail.

“Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “Their attention is focused on the person all the time.”

“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Berger says. “All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”

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