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Humans have kept pets for centuries now. Pets have gradually evolved over the years to become a key part of numerous families around the world. A survey carried out by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) revealed that there are 79.7 million pet owning households in the US alone. This accounts for more than 60% of all households in the country.

It is also fascinating to examine how this pet population is dispersed not only in the US, but also in other countries. For instance, while Americans prefer to own dogs and cats, the Japanese favor crickets and a large number of Brazilians keep birds. There is also a disparity in the total number of pets per household, with cat, bird and fish owners showing a tendency to keep more than one of these animals at a go.

However, dogs consistently rank at the top when it comes to popularity. Their reputation as man’s best friend is well earned, as you will never find a more loving, faithful, playful companion than a dog. The fact that there are so many breeds to choose from, each with its own unique traits and characteristics, only adds to their appeal.

While individual preference plays a part in selecting a dog to be a new addition to your family, it’s hard to deny that certain breeds are preferred over others. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Yorkshire Terriers and Golden Retrievers are the most popular breeds in America. There has also been a steady and definite rise in the ownership of miniature or toy dog breeds such as Chihuahuas, Shi Tzus and the Japanese Spitz, among others. Bigger dog breeds such as Rottweilers, Dobermans and German Shepherds are the preferred choice for those who want guard or security dogs.

As a dog owner, you no doubt consider your pet to be a member of your family. Like other dog owners, you have probably experienced the sheer joy your pet greets you with after a long day at work. Dogs are always happy to see you, always eager to please, play and have fun. This exuberant display of unconditional love can be a balm to your soul, lowering your stress levels. Have you ever noticed how relaxed and happy you feel after cuddling or playing with your pet?

Well, it turns out that owning a dog can actually be good for your health. Numerous studies have been carried out on pet owners, examining everything from their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and immunity. The consensus is that people who own pets are generally healthier and enjoy a better quality of life than those lacking animal companionship.

Check on-line for better health options and read on to see some of the health benefits you stand to gain as a proud dog owner.

Increased physical fitness

Dogs require a lot of exercise to remain healthy. As you walk and play with them, you also end up exercising your body. A simple 30-minute brisk walk with your pooch ensures that you achieve the recommended half hour of exercise per day. Some gyms nowadays offer yoga classes for you and your dog. Making your pet your exercise buddy ensures that you bond and both reap the benefits of exercise together.

Improved cardiovascular health

Studies by the American Heart Association have found that owning a dog could reduce your risk of heart disease. This is largely due to the lifestyle factors involved in caring for one. As mentioned above, your dog can motivate you to exercise and take better care of yourself. Regular exercise, in turn, leads to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in your body. High levels of these components can greatly increase your chance of heart attacks and stroke. Incidentally, lower cholesterol levels also lead to reduced blood pressure and improved health.

Improved immunity and reduced susceptibility to allergies

Given that pet dander is one of the leading causes of allergies and asthma attack, it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that cuddling with your pet could reduce your susceptibility to these same allergies. Nevertheless, studies have shown that children who grown up with pets or farm animals gradually build up their immunity and become less predisposed to allergies or asthma. Another side benefit of allowing your children to care for pets is that they learn how to respect and love animals. As you teach them how to groom and look after their pets, what products to use for flea and tick prevention and how to exercise the animals, they learn to be responsible pet owners.

Improved mood and reduced stress

You might have noticed that cuddling, stroking or cuddling your dog makes you more relaxed. The reason behind this is that cuddling your pet triggers your body to release oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. These are known as the ‘feel-good’ hormones, and they help to boost your mood while reducing stress levels. Furthermore, your pet’s companionship and unconditional love can banish loneliness and depression, thereby improving your overall mental health.

Increased socializing

While not really a health benefit per se, your dog can help boost your social encounters. Many people are willing to strike up a conversation with you as you exercise or play with your pet outdoors. You can also join pet clubs and communities to find out how to be a better pet owner. These interactions can help you form new friendships and even get new dates and relationships, tremendously improving your social life.

Service dogs

Dogs are increasingly being used to assist people suffering from various ailments. For instance, specially trained dogs can help epileptics know that a seizure is imminent, while others have been trained to assist those suffering from Parkinson’s disease to have a measure of independence. Several organizations have come up to encourage people to adopt dogs to help both children and adults living with ADHS, Alzheimer’s and a host of other ailments. Animal-assisted therapy is on the rise as the presence of animals has been found to reduce anxiety and improve the mood of people suffering from an illness.

As you can see, taking care of your beloved dog can lead to several health benefits. However, despite this positive link to your health, you shouldn’t get a pet solely to reduce the risk of diseases. Dogs are extremely intelligent, companionable animals, and taking care of one, earning its friendship and trust and knowing that it loves you unconditionally is more than enough reward.