As a longtime pet owner, I can attest to the great comfort and companionship my pets have provided over the years, but researchers have also found that pets can be hugely beneficial to your mental health and overall wellbeing.
There has long been evidence that people struggling with mental disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia have sought comfort in animals who provide an emotional connection that they may not otherwise get from their friends and family.
But now researchers also have noted the benefits of pet ownership for everyone, not just those struggling with significant health challenges.
Psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University conducted three studies to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among those they identified as “everyday people.” The studies found that pet owners had greater self esteem, were more physically fit, had more social networks and tended to be less preoccupied than those without pets.
Pet ownership was also connected to a sense of belonging and meaning in their lives, which has been found to reduce depression and anxiety.
The Benefits of Fido
Below are some additional ways pets can improve your mental health:
- They love you no matter what. Pets love you unconditionally and don’t judge you. They are fiercely loyal and you can always count on them to be by your side.
- They are great motivators for exercise. Dog owners tend to get more exercise and for longer by walking their dog than those without, and exercise in turn has been shown to improve mental health.
- They provide purpose and meaning. Studies have shown that finding activities that give you fulfillment or purpose, such as feeding, walking or caring for a pet, can reduce depressive symptoms.
- They make you smile. According to Life Coach Danielle Hark, when your dog does cute things like rolling on his back or putting a paw up on your arm, he can make you smile, which in turn triggers neurotransmitters to fire. These pet-time smiles can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness.
However, taking on a pet can be a huge responsibility that requires patience, consistency and commitment, but the payoff can be one of the most rewarding relationships of your life. If pet ownership is not feasible for you, try fostering or even volunteering at your local animal shelter to garner the mental health benefits of being around a pet.
Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA
Hark, D. (July 14, 2013). 12 Ways Your Pet Can Improve Your Mental Health! Retrieved on March 14, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danielle-hark/pet-ownership-health_b_3187960.html.
American Psychological Association (July 11, 2011). The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of ‘Everyday People.” Retrieved on March 14, 2017 from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/07/cats-dogs.aspx.