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Mental & Physical Health Benefits of Therapy Dogs: 10 Facts & FAQs

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

therapy dog visiting young female patient in hospital

Mental & Physical Health Benefits of Therapy Dogs: 10 Facts & FAQs

There are no two ways about it—dogs are amazing animals. No matter their size, breed, or age, dogs bring a ton of joy each and every day (not to mention a lot of silly antics!). They can also bring us comfort when we’re sad or motivate us to do more.

Some dogs are so good at helping people out that they become therapy dogs, and these dogs bring a host of benefits to their humans. Whether it’s benefits to one’s mental or physical health, having a therapy dog can do you a world of good

Here are the mental and physical health benefits of owning a therapy dog.

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What Is a Therapy Dog?

If you’re unfamiliar with what therapy dogs do, these pups are trained to help improve the mental and physical well-being of individuals. One thing to note is that therapy dogs are not service dogs. The two are very different in the jobs they perform, as service dogs help people with illnesses or disabilities improve their quality of life by assisting them in doing tasks or by detecting low blood sugar or other health problems.

Therapy dogs can be found helping out in various places, like schools and hospitals.

The Physical Health Benefits of Therapy Dogs

Here are just a handful of ways a therapy dog can benefit your physical health!

1. Decrease blood pressure

Dogs can help us feel less stressed and overwhelmed with their sweet, silly natures. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that along with less stress, our pups can also lower our blood pressure. Studies have shown that when you hug, pet, or snuggle your dog, your blood pressure (and heart rate!) are lowered1. And one study found that when people who had nearly reached hypertension adopted dogs, blood pressure levels fell significantly within just a few months!

man hugging his dog
Image Credit: Daxiao Productions, Shutterstock

2. Help you develop healthy habits

If you’ve owned a dog before, you know that they require daily maintenance. And that daily maintenance is a boon for pet owners, as it aids in helping them develop healthy habits. One excellent example is the need to ensure your dog is getting enough daily exercise; engaging in activity with your pet improves your physical health, too.

Dogs also motivate us to get up in the morning (because your pup will lick you in the face until you get up and feed it!). Every day you take care of your dog, you’re building healthy habits, and the same goes for those with therapy dogs.

3. Improve cardiovascular health

Lowering your blood pressure can go far in helping you avoid cardiovascular disease, but that’s not the only heart-related thing a therapy dog can improve. It’s been shown that those who own pets often have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels (and these, too, are heart disease indicators). And one study found that therapy dogs helped people in the hospital with heart failure by improving cardiopulmonary pressures and neurohormone levels2.

Dog hugging owner
Image Credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Shutetrstock

4. Lower cortisol

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”. When you get stressed, this hormone rises, and if you develop constant high cortisol, you’ll end up with a range of health problems, from weight gain to diabetes to heart disease. Luckily, therapy dogs can help with this, as studies have shown that dog parents have lower cortisol levels than non-dog parents3.

5. Lower pain levels

Believe it or not, research has shown that people recovering from accidents or surgery can actually experience less pain after seeing a therapy dog. The study was done on a group of children recovering from surgery and found that those who saw therapy dogs had a lower perception of pain than those who did not receive aid from these pups4. We’re all for adorable puppies that help us feel better quicker!

girl hugging her pyschiatric service dog
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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The Mental Health Benefits of Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs don’t just help you feel better faster or improve your heart health, though. They can also aid in multiple ways when it comes to your mental health!

6. Aid people with autism

People with autism (especially children) can be helped immensely by owning a therapy dog. These animals enable people to have unlimited compassion and kindness, and this can improve one’s self-confidence and even social skills. Plus, when stress becomes overwhelming, therapy dogs can provide comfort. And autistic children that have sensory impairments can have therapy dogs included in sensory integration activities.

7. Beneficial for those with ADHD

Therapy dogs can also be beneficial for those with ADHD. One big way therapy dogs are helpful in aiding ADHD is due to the fact that a dog requires management, such as keeping track of when to walk or feed it. Owning a therapy dog also encourages routine, which can be helpful in managing ADHD. Exercising with a therapy dog also provides an outlet for any excess energy, and dogs can aid in encouraging social interactions.

man walking dog
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

8. Improve social connections

We’ve said it a couple of times now, but therapy dogs can aid in making and enhancing social connections. Let’s face it, it can be hard to talk to new people regardless of who you are. But if you have social anxiety or depression, it’s going to be that much harder to make new friends. Therapy dogs help, though. After all, it’s not uncommon for dog owners to talk to one another at the dog park or on walks. And plenty of people will come up wanting to know if they can say hi to your pup. Dogs are irresistible, so it’s no wonder they make social interaction easier!

9. Lessens depression

Depression sucks. Depending on the level of your depression, it can make you unable to leave the house (or even bed), and it can make those simple, everyday life things (like chores) that much harder to accomplish. Medication and therapy can be extremely helpful in lessening depression, but so can therapy dogs. One of the main ways they do so is by increasing levels of oxytocin in your brain, as low oxytocin has been linked to depression.

owner hugging his dog
Image By: Lizardflms, Shutterstock

10. Offer comfort and support

Our canine companions love us no matter what we’re going through, which can be powerful when dealing with mental health issues. And with therapy dogs, they can often sense when you’re having a difficult time and will then help by providing stability. Plus, dogs are thrilled to give and receive affection any time, day or night, without caring about who you are or what you’re going through. All that unconditional comfort and support can truly help in difficult times.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been weighing the pros and cons of getting a therapy dog for a while now, we’re here to tell you there are definitely a world of pros to add to your list. Whether it’s your physical or mental health, having a therapy dog with you can improve it. Therapy dogs can lower your risk of heart disease, lessen depression, and offer you tons of support and comfort when needed.

So, if you’re interested in a therapy dog, look into reputable therapy dog services to learn more!

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Featured Image Credit: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

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