Is it good for your health to own a dog?

Yellow Labrador Retriever

What does the science tell us?

The question of whether owning a dog is beneficial or detrimental to one's health has intrigued researchers and dog owners alike. Dogs have long been celebrated as "man's best friend," but does this companionship translate into tangible health benefits? Let's explore the evidence supporting both sides of this debate.

Lady with cute Shiba Inu

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu

Health benefits of owning a dog

Increased physical activity: Dog owners often engage in more physical activities, such as walking and playing with their pets, leading to improved cardiovascular health. Research found that dog ownership is linked to lower odds of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The physical activity associated with dog walking contributes significantly

Enhanced mental health: The companionship of dogs helps reduce anxiety, feelings of loneliness and depression. The routine and responsibility of caring for a pet offer mental stimulation and a sense of purpose. Additionally, talking to other dog owners can increase social interactions, which positively impacts mental health

Stress reduction: Interaction with dogs can lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and increase oxytocin levels (a hormone associated with bonding and happiness). These hormonal changes can help reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being

Cognitive health: Pet ownership, especially owning dogs, is associated with better cognitive performance in attentional orienting, processing speed, verbal memory, and story memory. These benefits persist even after controlling for factors like age, education, race, and sex. 

    Potential health risks of owning a dog

    Allergies and asthma: Pet dander, saliva, and urine can trigger allergic reactions and asthma in susceptible individuals. On the other hand there has been found fairly consistent evidence suggesting that early exposure to pets, particularly dogs, may have a protective effect against some allergies. 

    Zoonotic diseases: Dogs can transmit diseases to humans, such as tick-borne diseases, several different bacteria that can cause skin infections, and fleas.

    Injuries: Dog bites and other injuries can occur. These incidents sometimes lead to significant medical treatment.

    Cute dog in bed - poodle or doodle

    Photo by Anna Pittas

    Balancing the pros and cons

    While owning a dog can provide numerous health benefits, such as increased physical activity, improved mental health, and reduced stress levels, it also comes with potential risks such as allergies, zoonotic diseases, and injuries. Also, the interaction between dog ownership and factors like age and smoking habits can further complicate the health outcomes. 

    Conclusion ... Should we all have dogs?

    On average, for most people, the health benefits of owning a dog outweigh the potential risks. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Individual health conditions, lifestyle, and readiness to take on the responsibility of dog ownership are crucial factors that need careful consideration. 

    It is crucial to recognize that choosing to welcome a dog into your life should not be solely for health benefits. Assessing your readiness and ability to provide proper care, including finding a breed that aligns with your lifestyle and needs, is essential.

    Remember, having a dog is an important commitment - it may be a significant part of your life, but for dogs, it’s their entire life.

    Cute german shepherd puppy in bed

    Photo by Cynthia Vh


    1. Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Egenvall, A., et al. (2017). Dog Ownership and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Death – A Nationwide Cohort Study. BMJ. Link
    2. Woodward, S. H., Baldassarri, S. R., & Pietrzak, R. H. (2023). Dog ownership may promote cardiometabolic health in U.S. military veterans. Scientific Reports. Link
    3. Sifferlin, A. (2013). Study: Dog Owners Have Lower Risk of Heart Disease. TimeLink
    4. Levine, G. N., Allen, K., Braun, L. T., et al. (2013). Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. Link
    5. O’Haire, M. E., & Rodriguez, K. E. (2018). Preliminary efficacy of service dogs as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder in military members and veterans. Journal of Psychiatric Research. Link
    6. Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: The possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology. Link
    7. McDonough, I. M., Erwin, H. B., Sin, N. L., & Allen, R. S. (2022). Pet ownership is associated with greater cognitive and brain health in a cross-sectional sample across the adult lifespan. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience Link
    8. Indolfi, C., D'Addio, E., Bencivenga, C. L., Rivetti, G., Bettini, I., Licari, A., Manti, S., Mori, F., Miraglia Del Giudice, M., & Klain, A. (2023). The primary prevention of atopy: Does early exposure to cats and dogs prevent the development of allergy and asthma in children? A comprehensive analysis of the literature. Life (Basel). Link
    9. Klein, P. A., Parisi, R., Daniel, J. M., & Rogers, R. S. 3rd. (2024). Dermatologic manifestations of zoonotic diseases transmitted by dogs: "Spot" could give you spots. International Journal of Dermatology. Link
    10. Patterson, K. N., Horvath, K. Z., Minneci, P. C., Thakkar, R., Wurster, L., Noffsinger, D. L., Bourgeois, T., & Deans, K. J. (2022). Pediatric dog bite injuries in the USA: A systematic review. World Journal of Pediatric Surgery. Link

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