How A Dog Can Benefit Your Mental Health


Emma Larsen, Writer

Dr. Miho Nagasawa from Jichi Medical University in Shimotsuke, Japan found that mutual gazing between humans and their dogs increases people’s oxytocin levels. This helps decrease anxiety and slow the heart rate. Dogs can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. People with dogs have lower blood pressure and are less likely to attain heart disease when older. Most people do not realize the benefits dogs provide until they have one.

Many people believe that their dog can understand them, and it is true. Dogs can recognize body language, tone of voice, specific words, and gestures. Loyal dogs can understand emotion by looking straight into your eyes. 

A study done by the NIH/Mars foundation looks at the effects of human-animal interactions for both the pet and the person. The study shows that people with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. People with high blood pressure adopted a dog, and as a result, their blood pressure decreased significantly within five months. Playing with a dog or cat increases serotonin and dopamine levels. (Serotonin and dopamine are the chemicals in the brain that control the feelings of happiness, calmness, motivation, and productiveness.) Patients with heart attacks can even survive longer if they have a pet. Furthermore, people over 65 with pets go to 30% fewer doctors appointments than those without pets.

As strange as it sounds, the reason for these therapeutic benefits from having pets is to fulfill the basic human need for touch. Scientists at Washington State University have proven that at least ten minutes spent with a dog will be substantially calming. A study done by Aaron Katcher, the professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania proved that any physical form of touching a loving animal instantly calms and soothes people who are nervous or stressed. The companionship and compassion of a pet can reduce depression and loneliness. It also stimulates a healthy lifestyle.

Having a dog also comes with the responsibility of providing care for the dog. Brian Hare, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at Duke University, showed that the need to care for a pet can positively affect the pet and the person in possession of the pet. Incorporating a healthy lifestyle into your life will ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. How do furry friends help stimulate a healthy lifestyle? Well, dogs need daily exercise, and taking a dog out for a walk or run will improve your mental and physical health. Dogs also provide great companionship that can prevent future illnesses and add years to someone’s life because of the reduction of loneliness. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets. Some even talk through their troubles and stressors with their pet. Another benefit of pets that can help add to a healthy lifestyle is meeting new people. By taking a dog out on a walk or to the park, owners are more likely to meet new people. 

A big reason dogs and cats are beneficial to mental health is because they reduce anxiety. Having a dog offers the feeling of comfort, promotes self-confidence, and eases stress. Dogs live in the moment; they do not care about what happened today, tomorrow, or last week. They care about their owners. The final reason dogs promote a healthy lifestyle is because they provide sensory relief. Stroking a dog or cat calms and eases a person’s nerves. After all, coming home to a dog wagging its tail is one of the best feelings.