You don’t need fancy studies or researchers to tell you that being a proud owner of a pet can add so much joy to your life. The nonjudgmental nature, unconditional love and loyalty of a furry friend can do your heart and health a whole lot of good. All it takes is one lick on the face to turn a frown upside down and improve your demeanor.
But the benefits of having a dog, in particular, don’t end there. Just some of the documented benefits of dog ownership include lessened anxiety, lower stress and cortisol levels, and healthier blood pressure. And in one study, visits from therapy dogs to chronic pain patients in an outpatient center provided significant reduction in pain and emotional distress.
In addition, animal-assisted therapy (better known as pet therapy) has been shown to be a successfully component of occupational therapy on wounded members of the military who have returned from combat.  According to researchers, these military members experienced significant improvements in mood, stress levels, resilience, fatigue and overall function after interacting with therapy dogs. And, not surprisingly, most participants were sad to see their pet therapy sessions end.
A Dog-Walk a Day Keeps Illness at Bay
The health benefits of dog ownership don’t end there. According to a newly released study, the simple act of walking your dog can have profound physical and emotional health benefits.
Researchers assessed differences in physical activity and risk factors for several physical and mental health conditions in dog owners who walked their dog, dog owners who did not walk their dog, and adults who did not own a dog.
Participants completed an online questionnaire that evaluated physical activity, status of their weight (overweight or not), tobacco use, nutrition, chronic health conditions, depression and social support.
Comparing the dog walkers with the dog owners who did not walk their dog, those who did not walk their dog reported less overall physical activity and a higher body mass index. And, those who did not own a dog had significantly higher odds of developing diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, compared to the dog walkers.
This is not all that surprising, considering the fact that dogs need to be taken out for at least one walk a day, which automatically “forces” the owner to get a workout, whether he/she really wants it or not! Even slower-paced walking has awesome health benefits, such as those experienced by these study participants.
Is a Dog in Your Future?
While any dog lover will extol the virtues of dog ownership, there is a lot to consider before you add a dog to your family. It’s not something you should jump into spontaneously without being prepared. Animals can take up a lot of your time, and they can get expensive. If you can handle the time and financial commitment, though, the rewards will be endless.
Finally, consider adopting a dog from your local animal shelter instead of buying one. There are thousands of wonderful dogs of all ages looking for a good home at shelters across the country.
 Marcus DA et al. Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Med. 2012 Jan;13(1):45–57. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01294.x.
 Beck CE et al. The effects of animal-assisted therapy on wounded warriors in an occupational therapy life skills program. US Army Ned Dep J. 2012 Apr–Jun:38–45.
 Lentino C et al. Dog walking is associated with a favorable risk profile independent of a moderate to high volume of physical activity. J Phys Act Health. 2012 March;9(3):414–20.