Being a Dog Owner Impacts Your Health

Being a Dog Owner Impacts Your Health

For those of you who are animal lovers, you may appreciate the companionship and love you receive from having a pet. Some of you may have grown up with pets and has therefore learned to associate the presence of the pet with your daily life. Clients often report that the stability and unconditional devotion they give and receive in a loving pet relationship is difficult to match.

Interestingly, research has shown that love and companionship are not the only things that being a pet-owner have to offer. In a literature review, Deborah Wells (2007) noted that, for example, dogs influence the psychological as well as the physical well-being of their owners.

Dogs have been reported to have the ability to help reduce the risk of certain illnesses, such as coronary heart disease and to aid in the recovery process after injury or illness. Some studies cited by Wells even suggest that dogs have the capability of detecting cancer, seizures and hypoglycemia.

According to Wells, dogs can also have a wide variety of beneficial psychological effects on human lives. The presence of a dog can reduce the impact of stressful life events, such as divorce and bereavement, ease anxiety levels, loneliness and depression and improve self-esteem and feelings of autonomy and competence. Wells suggested that dogs are able to help facilitate social interactions between people, citing a study that showed that walkers experienced more conversations with strangers when they were with their dog as opposed to alone.

Dogs have been used for pet-therapy in institutional settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. Studies showed that residents showed improvements in their mood and potentially helped ease feelings of isolation.

There is something extremely remarkable about how much having a pet can influence our personal well-being. Of course, owning and caring for a pet comes with a lot of responsibility. Therefore, to derive any benefits from owning a pet, a person has to be able to care for and enjoy their pet, so that both pet and owner could establish a positive and healthy relationship.

In other words, getting a pet is not a miraculous cure to any illness. However, for those of us who are already pet-owners or have been seriously considering becoming one, having the presence of a pet can contribute to our overall mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

Wells, D.L. (2007). Domestic dogs and human health: An overview. British Journal of Health Psychology, 12, 145-157.


About the Author:

Dr Chow is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private clinic in Saint-Laurent (Montreal) and in Saint-Lambert on the South Shore. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Concordia University. She is also a member of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec.