Dogs for Your Mental Health: What does research suggest?
Posted by Sara Anderson is the head of content for the EzCare clinic on Feb 21st 2022
The relationship between man and dog dates back centuries. Time has transformed this timeless relationship from a utility-based association to one based on love and family. Now more than ever, dogs have become social companions who live, eat, and sleep side by side with their human owners. According to research findings by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), the human-animal bond offers a wide range of benefits to overall wellness, quality of life, and physical and mental health.
Dogs for Mental Health
Most dog owners understand the immediate joy that comes with owning a companion animal. However, not many of us realize the physical and mental health benefits that often accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to our furry friends. Several scientific studies are currently exploring the benefits of the human-animal bond, with a significant number of them focusing on dogs for mental health.
Companion animals are acutely attuned to their human owners, including their behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, can understand and process many of the words we use on a daily basis. They can even interpret your tone of voice, gestures, and body language. Just like any loving human friend, dogs will look straight into your eyes and gauge your emotional state and try to interpret what you’re thinking and feeling.
Dogs can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, ease loneliness, promote exercise and playfulness, and even enhance your cardiovascular health. In fact, caring for a pet can help young children grow up more secure and active. Dogs also provide valuable companionship for seniors by providing real joy and unconditional love.
Recent studies have found that:
- Playing with a dog can elevate levels of dopamine and serotonin, which calms and relaxes
- Dog owners are less likely to experience depression than those without dogs
- People with dogs exhibit lower blood pressure under stressful situations than those without dogs. Another study even found that when patients with borderline hypertension owned dogs, their blood pressure significantly declined within five months.
- Dog owners have lower levels of triglyceride and cholesterol (indicators of heart disease) as compared to those without dogs.
- Heart attack patients with dogs survive longer than those without
- Pet owners aged 65 and above make 30 percent fewer visits to physicians than those without pets.
One of the reasons behind these therapeutic effects is that dogs and other pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Even hardened criminals in prisons register long-term changes in their behavior after associating with pets. Many of them typically experience mutual affection for the first time. Simple actions of stroking, hugging, or just touching a loving animal can quickly calm and soothe you when you’re anxious or stressed. The companionship of a dog can also ease loneliness since most dog breeds are a great stimulus for healthy exercise. As a consequence, dogs can help you boost your mood and ease depression.
Benefits of Mental Health Service Dogs
The latest scientific findings have revealed that people with underlying mental health issues can benefit directly from animal companionship or pet-assisted therapy. Some of the benefits of human-animal interactions include relief from stress, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
Now, there is peer-reviewed scientific evidence that mental health service dogs can help manage symptoms in veterans suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Pets can help their owners better manage their feelings and create a powerful diversion from the stress and anxiety of experiencing a mental health problem. Another study has also revealed that therapy dogs can help minimize stress in college students.
Moreover, a recent study funded by HABRI found that veterans living with PTSD exhibited improved mental health and well-being if they had a mental health service dog. Some of the benefits include:
- Lower depression levels
- Lower symptoms of post-traumatic stress
- Improved levels of life satisfaction
- Lower levels of social isolation and improved ability to engage in social activities
- Higher psychological well-being
- Higher levels of resilience
- Improved levels of companionship
These important research findings highlight the efficacy of mental health service dogs as a complementary treatment for PTSD, a condition that adversely affects more than 250,000 war veterans, with an alarming 22 suicides per day. Everyone living with a mental illness should have easy access to care, support, and services that would benefit their mental health. This includes interacting with a companion animal.
The more people get enlightened on the health benefits of human-animal relationships, the more likely we’ll see an increase in pet-friendly workplaces, schools, and apartment buildings. We’ll also see an upsurge of therapy animals allowed in nursing homes, hospitals, college campuses, etc.
Seek Professional Help
As society faces mental health issues such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and more, the role of companion pets should expand through research, advocacy, and education. Find the help you need to restore your health and well-being by visiting Ezcare Medical Clinic in San Francisco. Our experienced doctors handle a myriad of mental health challenges, including hormonal imbalances, stress, depression, anxiety, ADHD/ADD treatment and diagnosis, emotional support animals, and weight loss challenges. We believe that the best remedy to restore your health and vitality is through integrative medicine – a combination of conventional medication, hormonal balancing, and behavior, nutrition, and lifestyle modification. Contact us today to learn more about the benefits of mental health service dogs.
Sara Anderson is the head of content for theEzCare clinic, a medical clinic that provides world-class health care services. She has been associated with the health care industry for 10+ years and specializes in health care and medical content.