Pets and Mental Health

Pets and Mental Health

There’s nothing better than going home after a long day and being welcomed by a pet who’s been waiting all day to see you. Caring for a pet is one of life’s greatest pleasures; they provide constant companionship and unconditional love. Children, teens, adults, and seniors all find joy in pets. But the benefits do not end there. They are not only good for your physical well-being, but they're also good for your mental health.

Stress Relief--The mental health benefits of having a dog or cat have been proven by many scientific studies. The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress.

Pets fulfill the basic human need for physical contact. Petting, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm you when feeling stressed or anxious. Interacting with a pet reduces a person's blood pressure and cholesterol, breathing becomes more regular and muscle tension is relaxed--all signs of reduced stress. In addition, spending time with a dog or cat raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine, the hormones that calm and reduce stress naturally, and reduces amounts of the stress-related hormone cortisol. Even the sound of a cat purring can be soothing.

Stress is not the only problem which our bond with our pets can help. People report that their animal companions comfort and keep them going when life gets rough. The positive link between pets and mental health is clear.

Mental Illness--Mental illness is a serious problem, with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being among the most common. Although pets cannot cure mental illness, studies show that interactions with animals can help sufferers to manage their illness and everyday life.

Having pets gave them a strong sense of identity, self-worth, and meaning; pets distracted them from symptoms of mental illness. Caring for a pet also gave owners a feeling of being in control and a sense of security and routine. Pets provided unconditional support, which they were often not receiving from other relationships. 

Pets have evolved to become sensitive and responsive to humans and our behavior. Dogs in particular are in tune to their person’s moods and emotions. They pick up on when we are distressed or not feeling well, and they offer comfort.

Pets Make Us Feel Needed—Pets provide companionship, which can help prevent illness and add years to your life. Caring for an animal helps people feel needed and wanted, especially if they live alone. Pets provide a sense of security, purpose, consistency, and a sense of achievement.  

Dogs and cats need to be fed on a regular schedule. We need to get up and take care of them—no matter what mood they are in—because the pet is depending upon us. Pets can bring pleasure and help boost morale, optimism, a sense of self-worth, and can keep people from withdrawing from the world.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is bringing one’s attention to the present moment. Pets always live in the moment--they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. As a result, pets can help people become more mindful. Pets help distract people from their problems and appreciate the joy of the present.

Healthy Habits: Taking care of pets every day helps build healthy habits. Dog owners need to take their pets for walks, runs, and hikes regularly, so they receive the benefits of exercise, which is good for managing depression. Plus getting outside helps people experience the many mental health benefits of being outdoors.

Social Connection: Isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Pets decrease those feelings by supporting social connection. They relieve social anxiety because they provide a common topic to talk about. For example, walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners. As a result, people who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier and less withdrawn. Pets help you get to know people, make friendships, and build your support network.

Dogs and cats love their owners unconditionally, and they want to spend time with them, no matter what. Pets listen as you vent, and they don’t judge; they greatly influence how we feel about ourselves and life in general. The research on pets and mental health is clear, and some people are even considering getting an emotional support animal.

So what can you do to receive all the mental health benefits pets provide? Provide a home by adopting from Tulare County Animal Services! If you can’t adopt at this time, volunteer at the shelter and spend time with the animals. It’ll be beneficial for both of you!