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Dr's Prescription: Pet a Dog Today

Meet Piper and Zoe - Dr. Johnson’s two favorite pet children! Beyond being adorable, did you know that pets can actually impact your health in amazing ways?

Studies have demonstrated the effects of having a pet go far beyond cuddles. Pets can reduce your stress levels, lower blood pressure, boost heart health, and ease loneliness and depression!

Reduce Stress Levels

Numerous studies have proved owning a dog can lower cortisol levels. Even spending 10 minutes with a pet can have significant effects on lowering cortisol. Cortisol, also know as the “fight-or-flight” hormone, is a stress hormone. Too much cortisol in our blood can cause anxiety and depression, heart disease, and sleep troubles. Those who live a busy, stressful life often have elevated cortisol levels.

But having a pet doesn’t just decrease cortisol levels, it can also boost levels of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. Oxytocin is actually the hormone that bonds mothers to their babies. In fact, studies have demonstrated the bond between pets and owners has similar behavioral and neuroendocrine effects as the bond between a mother and infant. Interactions between dogs and their owners actually result in an increase in oxytocin for both.

Lower Blood Pressure

Lowering cortisol and boosting oxytocin levels also help to keep your blood pressure low. Researchers speculate that the lower blood pressure in pet owners stems from the calming effects of petting an animal and increased exercise levels that accompany owning a pet.

Studies have also suggested that owning a pet helps their owners better handle stress. In studies, dog owners experience less cardiac reactivity during times of stress. Their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and more quickly return to normal. Petting a dog actives your parasympathetic pathways, which increased heart rate variability (HRV).

Boost Heart Health

The American Heart Association published a study that found that dog ownership is associated with a longer life, especially among stroke and heart attack survivors. They found that:

  • Dog ownership is correlated with a 66% lower risk of death for heart attack survivors.

  • Dog owners have a 27% reduced risk of death after suffering from a stroke.

  • Dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and 31% lower risk of death by stroke or heart attack.

Researchers suggest this decreased risk of death is explained by increased physical activity and decreased depression and loneliness that accompany dog ownership.

Ease Loneliness and Depression

Pet owners are statistically less likely to suffer from depression. A 2011 study demonstrated that pet owners have better self-esteem and another study found that pets are actually more effective in mitigating depression than human interaction.

A healthy lifestyle often accompanies having a pet- which plays a role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. A pet often forces you to increase your exercise, offers companionship, helps you meet new people, and adds structure and routine to your day. All lifestyle factors that boost mental health.

The good news for all the non-pet owners is that some of these positive effects can be experienced by simply looking at a cute puppy. One study found that looking at a picture of cute puppies can increase your attention and concentration. Watching videos of cute animals can lift your mood and decrease stress.


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