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Awful day at the office? Bad blind date? Or annoyed for no reason? (It happens!) Dog owners know that it just takes one sloppy wet kiss from your furry BFF to turn that frown upside down. It’s even a scientific fact that pets make us happier. And aside from putting smiles on our faces, it turns out pets have the ability to make us healthier. We put together a list of how our pets, particularly dogs, can make us happy, healthy, fit, smiley people—and it’s backed by science, of course!

Dogs Good for Your Heart

1. They’re good for your heart.

Sure, snuggling up with your pup can warm your heart. But researchers at the American Heart Association found that having a dog could actually reduce your risk of getting cardiovascular disease. Pooch cuddling that has heart-healthy benefits? That’s worth a lifetime of lint rollers!

2. They can act as furry therapists.

Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as it’s also called, has been linked to the reduction of anxiety, pain, and depression in people with a range of mental or physical health problems. Many people can benefit from pet therapy, including patients undergoing chemotherapy, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical therapy patients working on their fine motor skills. Even some academic institutions are taking note. At Miami University, students can take advantage of pet therapy that alleviates feelings of homesickness and depression. Dogs are on call during midterms and finals when those feelings are at an all-time high.

3. They can sniff out cancer.

Did you know that dogs have a sense of smell that’s 1 million times stronger than ours? (Can you even begin to imagine what bacon must smell like to them?) Working dogs use their keen sense of smell to locate bombs and drugs, but amazingly, pups can also sniff out what’s going on inside our bodies. Research has found that your everyday, average household pooch can be trained to distinguish the differences in the breath of those with breast and lung cancer to those withoutDiagnostic accuracy of canine scent detection in early- and late-stage lung and breast cancers. McCulloch, M., Jezierski, T., Broffman, M., et al. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 2006 Mar;5(1):30-9. . Another study found that dogs could be trained to detect biomarkers in the urine of those with prostate cancerOlfactory detection of prostate cancer by dogs sniffing urine: a step forward in early diagnosis. Cornu, J.N., Cancel-Tassin, G., Ondet, V., et. al., European Urology, 2011 Feb;59(2):197-201. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2010.10.006. . That’s one incredible sniffer!

Active Dogs

4. They keep us moving.

If you have a dog, you’ve probably walked it, right? Well, all that walking can add up. One study found that dog owners were 34 percent more likely to achieve their recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week than non-dog ownersThe impact of dog walking on leisure-time physical activity: results from a population-based survey of Michigan adults. Reeves, M.J., Rafferty, A.P., Miller, C.E., et al. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2011 Mar;8(3):436-44. . And don’t dismiss walking as wussy exercise. Just because it’s low-impact (for your joints) doesn’t mean it’s no-impact (for your health).

5. They lower your stress levels.

Yes, we know our pets can make us happier, but research shows that interacting with dogs can help reduce stressHuman-canine interaction: exploring stress indicator response patterns of salivary cortisol and immunoglobulin A. Krause-Parello, C.A., Tychowski, J., Gonzalez, A., et. al. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, 2012;26(1):25-40. . Even something as simple as playing fetch or petting your pup can increase levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in your brain, and lower production of cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone.

6. They lower blood pressure.

Blood pressure might sound like a concern for people in their golden years, but really everyone can benefit from keeping their numbers in check. And a study from the American Heart Association found when pet owners get support from their furry friends, it’s enough to lower blood pressure brought on by mental stressPet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress. Allen, K., Shykoff, B.E., Izzo, et al. Hypertension, 2001 Oct;38(4):815-20. . We like to think that means we’re that much closer to getting a prescription for dog snuggles.

Social Dogs

7. They ease social isolation.

Rejection can sting, but it eases off when you’re greeted with a wagging tail. And science confirms pets help our sense of belonging. One study found that pet owners reported having higher self-esteem, felt more conscientious, and even bounced back from social rejection betterFriends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership. McConnell, A.R., Brown, C,M., Shoda, T.M. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Dec;101(6):1239-52. . Another study revealed that women and single adults found the most benefit of mental well-being from owning a dogPsychological effects of dog ownership: role strain, role enhancement, and depression. Cline, K.M. Journal of Social Psychology, 2010 Mar-Apr;150(2):117-31. doi: 10.1080/00224540903368533. . No wonder dogs are considered man’s best friend (and woman’s too!).

8. They can help you quit smoking.

Still lighting up but trying to quit the habit? A new roommate of the canine variety may be just what you need. In one study, 28 percent of smokers who owned pets reported that knowledge of the harmful effects of second hand smoke on their pets would motivate them to quit.

9. They ease workday pressures.

Bringing your dog to work may have a positive impact on your stress levels on the job. Research shows that employees who brought their furry friends to the office reported lower levels of perceived stress throughout the day. (It’s easier to brush off a database meltdown after giving Fido a belly rub!) How to convince your boss? Point out an office pooch provides a low-cost wellness bonus for employees!

10. They can help boost your immune system.

Just petting a dog may be enough to keep that pesky cold away. One study conducted on college students reported benefits to overall health, particularly to the immune system of those students who were asked to pet dogs (as opposed to those asked to pet stuffed animals or nothing at all)Effect of petting a dog on immune system function. Charnetski C.J., Riggers S., Brennan F.X. Psychological Reports, 2004 Dec;95(3 Pt 2):1087-91. . So next time you feel the sniffles coming, reach for the tissues—and your trusty sidekick.

11. They can detect life-threatening health issues.

In addition to sniffing out cancer, dogs can also be trained to identify when their human counterparts experience a seizure. Or for people who struggle with severe allergies to peanuts, a dog’s extraordinary sense of smell can be used to catch that nut before their owner has a potential reaction.

The Takeaway

Yes, we may dole out treats to our dogs, but they give us the biggest treat of all: health, happiness, and years of slobbery kisses. And it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t mention that getting a pet is a big deal, so if you’re debating adoption, check out this quiz that can help you decide. But owning a pet isn’t the only way to get your dose of doggy love. Volunteering at your local animal shelter is also a great way to get that dog-to-human contact and make a real difference to a pup in need. (Plus you’ll earn a squillion karma points!)

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