Having a guard dog for the house is always a good idea. But how about having a guard dog for health? For years, researchers have been studying the effects of pets on health, and — especially with canine companions — the results are definitely something to woof about.
Paw-sitivity — The Takeaway
From mini to gigantic, studies show that these four-legged friends can affect health in a many ways. A number of studies have found that dog owners are more likely to lead active lives than those without pets . More than simply serving as partners in crazy adventures, dogs can have some more concrete benefits, like helping reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure . And some canines can even predict the future (kind of). Research suggests that some dogs have been able to detect serious illnesses — including epilepsy and even cancer — in their owners before any symptoms appear  .
But beyond the physical health benefits, dogs can help with happiness, too. (Did we really have to say that?) Research suggests dog owners are less stressed out than their puppy-less counterparts . Other studies have found pet owners to have higher self-esteem and overall better well-being, and that pets can actually provide social support (and even moreso when paired with support by human friends) . And they're often used in therapy sessions with patients suffering from loneliness and depression . This one-on-one time with a furry friend, guided by a medical professional, can help develop empathy and camaraderie between owner and pet . But don't run out to the pet store just yet — while some research has suggested dogs can boost happiness, one study did find that spending time around a happy person may be just as effective .
Even though pets have been shown to lead to healthier lives, just owning one doesn’t guarantee a happy and healthy life. Pets are great motivators, but not anything like drill sergeants.
Originally posted June 2011. Updated May 2012.