Being around a dog boosts ‘positive’ chemicals in the brain, reduces blood pressure and even helps to relieve stress and depression, an expert has said.
Dr Jane Manno, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic extolled the benefits of dogs today saying walking, petting or even just sitting with them helps boost serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain — lifting someone’s mood.
And because they require regular walks, Manno often tells patients who are anxious or depressed to get one. The animals get their owners out the house more — helping to build a sense of purpose and battle feelings of isolation.
A number of studies have highlighted how keeping a dog can enhance someone’s health and improve their mood. About one in three American households — or 48 million — are also home to a dog, figures suggest.
Walking dogs helps people get out of the house, which can help build a sense of happiness and ensure people feel less isolated
Dr Jane Manno, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic, spoke about dogs
Revealing the benefits of having dogs, Manno said: ‘Just physically being around animals releases some positive neurotransmitters in the brain.
‘Studies have shown serotonin and dopamine [are released], so there’s a biological component. It decreases blood pressure, it decreases the stress hormone cortisol.’
She added: ‘[A dog] does make you feel good. It’s a commitment. You’re doing something for the greater good, you’re also meeting people and being with animals as well.
‘So yes, there’s a lot of benefits, and it gets you out the house, particularly if someone is isolating all the time.’
Dogs shed tears of joy when reunited with their owners
After a long day, coming home to a wagging tail and some puppy love can be just what is needed to put a smile on your face.
And it turns out that our dogs are just as happy to see us again — so much so that it makes them cry with joy.
Researchers from Azabu University, Japan found that pooches experience such a rush of oxytocin — the ‘love hormone’ — that it causes tears to form in their eyes.
They measured dogs’ tear volume before and after reuniting with their owners, and found that it increased.
Oxytocin was also added to their eyes to confirm that it stimulates the release of tears.
The study shows humans experience more positive emotions relating to dogs with wetter eyes, suggesting their response helps them connect with us.
Professor Takefumi Kikusui said: ‘We had never heard of the discovery that animals shed tears in joyful situations, such as reuniting with their owners, and we were all excited that this would be a world first!’
Manno also pointed to a paper from March this year, which found that just 10 minutes with a dog per day reduced feelings of pain, anxiety and depression.
It was not clear whether Manno owned a dog herself.
Psychologists have been pointing out the health advantages of owning a dog for years.
The Mental Health Foundation, based in the UK, says they help raise physical activity and provide companionship — all improving someone’s mood.
It even credits them with boosting self-confidence, because the animals can act as great listeners, offer unconditional love and don’t criticize you.
Dogs can also help with meeting new people, because dog owners often stop and chat to each other on walks.
There are several programs across the United States — including in Washington state — focusing on getting therapy dogs to hospital patients.
Dr Max Pemberton, a psychiatrist in Britain’s NHS who also writes for the Daily Mail, wrote last year that medics often turn to the animals for help when medication has failed to ease someone’s suffering.
Describing one case he wrote, I remember talking to one middle-aged woman whose 14-year-old son had died of cancer a few years previously.
Her world had crumbled, she explained. She described it as feeling as if someone had scooped out her insides — she felt so utterly empty and hollow. She wanted to crawl into bed and never get up again. But she couldn’t. She had two other children and they needed her.
Just before her son died, they had bought him a dog.
She explained how the dog made her get up each morning as he needed to be walked before the children got up.
He forced her to get dressed, to structure her day. When the children were at school and she was home alone, if she wanted to cry, he didn’t mind.
He didn’t judge her when she wanted to roll up on the sofa and instead would come and lie next to her. She said somehow he could sense her grief and knew she just needed someone there with her, silently but persistently keeping her company. ‘The dog saved my life,’ she told me.