Most dog owners consider their canine companions to be a member of the family and revel in the warmth, comfort and companionship they receive in return. However, research shows that dogs give their owners – and the families they live with – more than just unconditional love and devotion. Having a pet confers a significant number of health benefits.

They get you out and about

With an increasing number of people living sedentary lifestyles, one of the huge benefits of having a pet, and in particular a dog, is that you get far more exercise and engage in far more physical activity and are in far better shape than people that do not have a dog.

The main reason for this is the simple fact that dogs need to be walked daily. While you might decide to skip the gym if the weather is poor or simply not feel like doing very much if you’re feeling a little under the weather, owning a dog means you have no choice and have to walk on a daily basis, come rain or shine.

Dog owners have been found to walk for an average of 300 minutes per week compared to just 168 minutes for non-dog owners. As a result, dog owners are 54 per cent more likely to meet the minimum recommended levels of physical activity for adults.

They help your heart

The emotional attachment you feel to your pet that makes you feel warm and fuzzy every time they come up snuggle up against you has other benefits too. Large studies show that owning both cats and dogs can reduce the risk of your suffering from cardiovascular disease and lower your blood pressure. If you are taking medication for hypertension, stroking a cat or a dog can reduce your response to stress by as much as half. There are also studies that show that owners of pets who suffer from cardiac issues are more likely to survive.

Part of this may be linked to other studies that show pet ownership increases self-esteem and creates a sense of belonging which in turn helps to reduce stress. Many pets instinctively know when their owners are feeling down and will attempt to give them comfort. The benefits of having this emotional support system in your life then spills over into other aspects by making it easier for you to cope with any difficult situations that may occur.

Studies show that young adults who have strong attachments to dogs and cats are likely to report feeling more connected to their partners and their wider communities. Research also suggests that owning a pet will lead to a busier social life, as well as a long, happier and more fulfilled one.

Stronger kids

Owning a pet may also benefit the health of your children, especially in the long term. Studies have shown that children who spend the first six months of their lives in households that have a pet are significantly less likely to developed conditions such as hay fever, eczema and other allergic conditions as they get older. Children from households with pets also have stronger immune systems later in life.

Pets ownership has other benefits for children too. Understanding that a pet is hungry and needs feeding or needs to go outside in order to use the toilet, or simply needs comforting because there is a thunderstorm raging outside all teaches empathy.

Children can also share the responsibility of looking after a pet, from filling water and food bowls at an early age to grooming and walking a dog as they get older. The more responsibility the children are given, the greater the boost to their confidence.

Strong social ties

Dog owners tend to be a friendly and sociable bunch. Owning a dog means you are out and about in areas where other dog owners congregate, and this can lead to conversations and discussions with people from all walks of life, some of whom may develop into friends. Dog ownership can also make people seem more attractive to potential love interests.

Pet ownership also strengthens the social fabric of local neighborhoods by bringing together people who might not otherwise have any reason to meet. Seeing the same faces again and again regularly as you walk your pooch can also help you to feel like part of the community and socially connected. This also means that having a pet can help to relieve mild symptoms of depression as they give owners something else to focus on beyond their own negative thoughts.

In fact, dogs can make humans happy without even trying. A study in Japan found that simply staring into your dog’s eyes will raise your level of oxytocin – a brain chemical associated with happiness.

Be sure to prevent parasites

If you want to maximize the many benefits of owning pet, you’ll need to ensure your four-legged friend stays as healthy as possible. One reason for this is that looking after a sick pet has been shown increase levels of anxiety and depression among owners, affecting them in much the same way as looking after a sick relative.

Another reason is that if your pet is infested with ticks or fleas, there is a chance you or members of your household can suffer from diseases such parasites are known to spread. Use a topical treatment, such as Pet-Lock, on a monthly basis to kill off adult fleas and ticks, along with any eggs, larvae and pupae.

When using such a treatment, you should still check your pets on a regular basis, especially if they have been playing with other pets known to be suffering with an infestation or if they are playing in an area where ticks are likely to be present.

If you find an infestation, remember to treat your entire house as well as your pet as such parasites will often lay their eggs in secluded spots around your home, as well as on the body of your pet.