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Addressing the Health Benefits (and Drawbacks) of Dog Ownership

Everyone loves cuddling their canine companion on the couch after a hard day at work. But your dog doesn’t just make you happier — your pooch can make you healthier, too.

Studies show that dog owners are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and are at a lower risk of premature death. Even after accounting for differences like smoker status and socioeconomic background, researchers still found that dog owners were healthier than their peers who didn't own a pet.

But why, exactly, are dogs so good for us? Is it all down to regular walking, or is there something else at work?

Physical Health

Pet ownership is great for your health. The benefits of owning a pet include:

  • More time spent exercising;
  • Access to social opportunities;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Improved stress management.

This list should come as little surprise if you already own a dog. Most dogs require plenty of walking every day, meaning you have to get up and start racking up the miles first thing in the morning. You’ll also meet plenty of other canine lovers on walks and during puppy-training classes.

The time you spend exercising and training your dog can lower your blood pressure, too. Not only does the exercise itself help with blood pressure, but some of the natural mental health benefits of dog ownership benefit your blood pressure as well.

Mental Health

When working with your dog, you can’t worry about life’s stresses and strains — you have to focus on the here and now. This can help you manage your stress more effectively and give you a mental reset when life feels overwhelming.

Your doctor may even prescribe pet therapy if you live with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety. A well-trained pooch will be able to intercept thought spirals and give you a sense of purpose when you’re feeling low. This companionship can help you turn the corner and see life’s silver linings.

Life without a loyal pooch by your side can also spark loneliness or isolation — both of which can contribute to anxiety or depression.

For many, owning a dog is the perfect solution to social isolation and loneliness. If you work remotely, a canine pal can help you rediscover your sense of purpose and help you meet new people. Likewise, folks with social anxiety can meet other dog owners and bond over a common love of canines.

Dogs are perfect companions during trying times, too. Owning a dog has been shown to improve the health and well-being of college students as pooches are the perfect stress relief during a difficult semester. A quick cuddle on the couch can be the perfect way to decompress after class and renew your focus on upcoming assignments.

Lifestyle Changes

Owning a dog isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. Since you own another living being, it comes with additional responsibilities. Owning a dog means that your entire day-to-day schedule must change. You need to give your pooch walks when they need them and are responsible for feeding and grooming them. Your pooch will keep you on your toes 24/7 and will become the focal point of your daily life.

Although this may sound tiresome, this additional responsibility can initiate healthy lifestyle changes of your own. If you want to give your pup the care it deserves, you have to take care of your own health. Taking preventative healthcare seriously will ensure that you can take care of your dog and will improve your long-term health.

Consider signing yourself up for a preventative care visit every time you take your pooch for a check-up at the vet's. Just like your dog, you need to be examined by experts once or twice a year. This will ensure that you are both in great health and can enjoy long walks and runs together for many years to come. 

Overcoming Allergies

Between 10 - 20% of the world’s population has an allergy to dog or cat hair. Left untreated, allergies can exacerbate respiratory illnesses and make your day-to-day life much more difficult.

If you live with a condition like asthma, you should take steps to alleviate the symptoms of allergies. Try to spend some time around the breed that you plan to adopt before you bring them into your home and consider how the hair will affect you.

Don’t turn your back on dogs altogether if you are allergic. Treatment options exist to help folks with allergies live happily with a canine companion. Your doctor can prescribe nasal sprays and eye drops to alleviate your symptoms. They may also be able to offer Leukotriene modifiers that reduce your body’s reaction to allergies.

Conclusion

Dogs can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Owning a dog will force you to become physically active, as most breeds require at least 30 minutes of walking per day. While on walks, you’re bound to bump into other dog owners and will quickly build a community of canine lovers. Speak to your doctor if you notice any drawbacks of dog ownership like worsening allergies. Your doctor can prescribe treatments and help you manage your symptoms.

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