Dogs Are the Secret to Mental Health, Science Says
It’s common knowledge that having a dog, or any pet for that matter, promotes happiness. Dogs are the ultimate life partner: loyal, lovable, and absurdly cuddly. But now “science supports a truth the heart has always known,” says Meg Olmert, the author of Made for Each Other, a book that summarizes 20 years’ worth of biological research about the human-animal bond.
Therapy dogs frequently visit old-folks homes, as they are proven to reduce depressive symptoms in the elderly. However, it turns out that the most effective cure for depression at all ages could be having a dog.
A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that our happy hormones benefit from time spent with dogs. “Our results indicate that levels of serotonin, a hormone in humans that helps fight depression, rise dramatically after interaction with live animals, specifically dogs,” said Rebecca Johnson, a professor of nursing and veterinary medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Johnson goes on to say that “this hormone is critical in the psychological well-being of an individual [and] there is no substitute for the real thing.”
The benefits of having a K9 companion are mutually beneficial, according to a recent study by Miho Nagasawa of Japan’s Azabu University. The study found that “owners and dogs sharing a long mutual gaze had higher levels of oxytocin than owners of dogs giving a shorter gaze.” To clarify, oxytocin is also known as “the cuddle hormone.” It plays a large role in social bonding and is found in large amounts leading up to and following birth. So, what does this mean? Your relationship with your dog is similar to that of a mother and newborn; i.e., it’s one of the strongest social bonds in existence.
The best way to foster this strong bond is to engage with your dog. Nagasawa recommends that “dog owners not just say commands at their dogs, but to build up the relationship and to consider the potentially beneficial role that mutual gaze can hold.” So do like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday and having a staring contest with Fido.
Dogs aren’t just mental-health boosters. They also improve your physical health and extend your life span. Several studies have shown that “pet owners were found to have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners, and lower blood pressure in stressful situations.”
We couldn’t be more ready for a pup of our own. If you have a four-legged friend, shop our favorite dog accessories below.
Do you have a dog? Share your favorite dog stories with us in the comments.