Owning a dog welcomes a host of benefits and I’m not just talking about the obvious advantage of having a fun and friendly companion in your household. We know our dogs make us happy, but could they also be making us healthy?

Experts say yes, dogs really do make the world of difference. Whether it’s by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, or detecting serious illness early, dogs are unrivalled in the stakes for ‘man’s best friend.' The facts speak for themselves – dogs really can enhance our quality of life just by being there.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at 5 benefits of owning a dog (and there are plenty more!)

1) Heart health – unlike many of us humans, dogs love to exercise and play. Never happier than when they are frolicking outdoors, their hearts are racing and they are on-the-go, most dogs are able to keep off the pounds and maintain good heart health.

For us, having dogs means getting out-and-about and experiencing the great outdoors with them, whether it’s a walk around the block, a game of fetch in the park, or some harmless rough-and-tumble indoors. Having a dog means exercise – whether you like it or not!

Moreover, research strongly suggests that having a dog lowers heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol, improves sleep patterns and strengthens the body’s immune system. People with heart disease are also likely to live longer if they have pets, and generally have a longer life expectancy following a heart attack.

2) Better immunity – these days, you only have to turn on the television to be confronted with an advert for cleaning products; humanity is on a crusade against germs and we won’t be content until we have wiped out every last one of them. In reality, our bodies need germs to keep our immune systems strong, so, when we’re not exposed to them frequently, we can quickly become ill when eventually we are.

Dogs are teeming with germs and having one in the house exposes us to them every day, which only strengthens our immunity. People with dogs are therefore less frequently ill and are less likely to be affected by allergies and asthma. Dog owners also visit their GP’s less and take fewer prescription medicines.

3) Stress reduction – it is no secret that dogs affect our mood and can change our outlook on life. Rates of depression are significantly lower in the pet-owning population with people reportedly feeling less isolated, less stressed, and less negative with their furries at their side. Routine and consistency are also great remedies for depression – two things dog ownership provides.

Likewise, having a dog gives purpose and responsibility, which in turn can make a person more focused and content. Experts say that caring for a dog may also ‘give [you] a sense of your own importance and value.’ It is harder to stay inside feeling down when you have a dog that is itching to get out and play and is relying on you for companionship. Research suggests that simply petting your dog can reduce heart rate and levels of stress hormone.

4) Predict and alert to problems – for those who suffer with on-going seizures and episodes of hypoglycaemia, dogs can be specially trained to detect an imminent crisis and alert their owners 15-45 minutes before it happens. This allows whoever affected to call for help or find somewhere safe to lie down.

5) Social interaction –if I stopped in the street to talk to someone I didn’t know, people would look at me suspiciously. But if I stopped to talk to someone because they were standing with their dog, it would be much more acceptable. Similarly, if I was the one with the dog, studies show people would be much more likely to trust me and enter into a friendly discussion, despite not knowing who I am.

Whether it’s making friends in the park, exchanging small talk in the street, or being part of a dog club or association, our social lives are only going to benefit from having a dog. And if our social and emotional lives are happy, our physical lives are surely going to be too.

So, if you are thinking about getting a dog but fear it will all be too stressful, think again! A dog really could make a world of difference to you and your family, not just health-wise, but when it comes to fun and excitement too! If you have any comments or benefits to add, please let us know: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah Dyball