The Science Behind How Dogs Make Us Happier, Healthier, and Fitter

Dog sitting outside tent
Dog sitting outside tentLinus Strandholm / EyeEm / Getty Images

The health benefits of owning a pup go far beyond extra exercise. New research shows canines help ward off disease, lower stress levels, and even detect cancer. Here’s a breakdown of how your dog is saving your life. 

Why Owning a Dog Adds Years to Your Life

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The Eyebrows

Dogs may use facial expressions — raising their eyebrows to make their eyes look bigger — to elicit affection and deepen the bond with their owner.

The Tongue

Researchers discovered a protein in dog saliva that may help human cuts heal twice as fast. So go ahead and let your pup lick your wounds.

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The Nose

A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more accurate than ours. Canines are being trained to detect the scents of early-onset diseases in humans.

The Eyes

“Imagine looking at your dog and he looks back at you — in about 30 seconds, oxytocin courses through your body,” says psychologist Chris Blazina. This hormone, associated with feelings of trust and bonding, could increase by as much as 300 percent, research suggests.

The Fur

Pet and play with a dog, and your brain soon releases the feel-good endorphins serotonin and prolactin. After 15 minutes, your levels of the stress-hormone cortisol decrease significantly.

The Paws

Service dogs use their paws to dial 911 for a diabetic owner with dangerously low blood sugar or to turn on lights for PTSD sufferers. Dogs also use their paws to comfort us when we’re anxious, similar to giving us a soothing pat on the back.

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The Legs

Owning a dog means you’ll walk an average of five hours per week (non-owners log fewer than three). Compared with cat owners, you’ll also be leaner, have a stronger heart, and live longer.

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