If you’ve ever felt relaxed in the presence of a dog, you might have wondered, “Do dogs reduce stress?”
In fact, yes, dogs can reduce stress in humans due to their impact on a hormone called cortisol in our bodies. This may come as no surprise to pet owners. From companionship to improved health, decreased stress is just one of the health benefits of dogs.
It doesn’t take much to feel relaxed in the presence of a canine companion, either. Whether you’re petting, cuddling, feeding the occasional treat, or perhaps playing fetch in the park, they can affect our moods from the most basic interactions.
Read on to learn more about how dogs can decrease our stress levels.
How Dogs Reduce Stress
If you’re wondering how dogs reduce stress, the explanation may seem simple: Spending time with a pet makes you feel better. There is actually an interesting scientific reason, however.
When we’re stressed out, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that can have negative effects on our health.
Cortisol is often related to heightened blood pressure and over time it can lead to hypertension. In excess, the hormone can also suppress your body’s immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to illness.
Research shows our cortisol levels go down when we’re in the presence of a dog, even just for a few minutes. Whether it’s petting them or simply reading in their proximity*, dogs have a calming effect on our bodies.
This might be because canines are a non-judgmental audience. Blood pressure and heart rate normally become elevated during conversations with other people, but they can decrease when we’re around dogs.*
Dogs & Mental Health
Canines’ ability to help us feel less stressed is one reason why people have their pets classified as emotional support dogs. These animals can also assist people as they cope with anxiety, pain and depression.
Therapy dogs play a similar role; although unlike emotional support canines, these animals receive formal training to provide comfort and support. Typically, therapy dogs are brought to locations such as hospitals or assisted-living facilities to calmly interact with patients.
What are the Benefits of Having a Dog?
In addition to stress relief, there are many benefits of having a dog. Here are a few of them:
- Companionship. Whether it’s from playing, cuddling or just hanging out together, many pet owners form strong bonds with their dogs.
- Decreased loneliness. Having a dog to care for can reduce depression and feelings of isolation.**
- Improved mood. Interacting with a canine can raise levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with love, bonding and positive feelings.
- More social connections. From walking your pet through the neighborhood a couple times a day to taking them to the dog park, dogs provide opportunities for us to meet people. Strong social ties are linked to improved health.
The Health Benefits of Dogs
Dogs may have a meaningful impact on your physical health. Some of the ways they can help include:
- Physical activity. Dogs need exercise to stay healthy. Just taking them on regular walks every day can improve your fitness as well. (Some of them also make good running and hiking buddies.)
- Decreased blood pressure. Simple interactions with a dog can lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Lower triglyceride levels. When elevated, triglycerides can be associated with increased chances of heart disease and stroke. Interacting with a dog can reduce them to normal levels.
- Less vulnerability to chronic disease. By caring for a dog, people may become less lonely, which can strengthen their health and reduce chances of chronic illness.**
For those wondering, “Do dogs reduce stress?”, remember that canines can have positive effects on our anxiety levels, mood and overall health.
*Case, L. P. (2005). Sharing Our Lives with Dogs. In The Dog: Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health (Second edition, pp. 117). Blackwell Publishing.
**Case, L. P. (2005). The Human-Dog Bond. In The Dog: Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health (Second edition, pp. 113-120). Blackwell Publishing.