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Pets & Mental Health: The Pawsitive Impact of Pets

June 17th, 2024


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.

Keep reading to take a deeper dive at all the ways your pet can be pawsitively impacting your life and mental health.

How Pets Benefit Your Physical & Mental Health

Pets offer more than just companionship; they can have profound positive effects on both our physical and mental well-being. From reducing stress and anxiety to encouraging regular exercise, the benefits of having a pet are extensive.

Whether it's a dog, cat, or even a smaller animal like a hamster, the bond formed with a pet can provide emotional support, boost your mood, and improve overall health. Let's explore the various ways in which pets can enhance our lives and contribute to a healthier, happier you:

  • Reduced Stress & Anxiety: Spending time with pets can lower cortisol levels and help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Increased Physical Activity: Pets, especially dogs, encourage regular exercise through activities like walking and playing.
  • Improved Mood: Interaction with pets boosts the production of serotonin and dopamine, which help elevate your mood.
  • Enhanced Social Interaction: Owning a pet can increase opportunities for socialization with other pet owners and community members. They are a great way to meet new people too!
  • Lower Blood Pressure: The calming effect of pet companionship can contribute to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Boosted Immunity: Exposure to pets can strengthen your immune system and reduce the risk of allergies, especially in children.
  • Sense of Purpose: Caring for a pet gives a sense of responsibility and purpose, which can combat feelings of loneliness and depression.
  • Emotional Support: Pets provide unconditional love and companionship, offering emotional support during tough times.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Interacting with pets can help you stay present and enjoy the moment, promoting relaxation and mindfulness.
  • Routine and Structure: Pets require regular care, which can help create a daily routine and structure in your life.
  • Boosted Self-Confidence: Successfully caring for a pet and fulfilling their needs can enhance your self-esteem and confidence, knowing that you are providing love and care for another being. They also provide great company and are the perfect listening companions for when you are feeling misunderstood or lonely.

Mental Disorders That Pets Can Help Alleviate

Pets offer more than just companionship; they can play a significant role in supporting mental health and well-being. Research has shown that the presence of a pet can help alleviate symptoms of various mental disorders, providing emotional support, reducing stress, and enhancing overall quality of life.

From offering a sense of purpose to providing a calming presence, pets can be a valuable addition to therapeutic strategies for managing mental health conditions. Let's explore the mental disorders that can benefit from the companionship and support of pets:

  • Depression: Pets provide companionship and unconditional love, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness and sadness.
  • Anxiety: Interacting with pets can lower anxiety levels by providing a calming presence and reducing stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Pets, especially dogs, can offer emotional support, reduce hypervigilance, and provide a sense of safety.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Pets can help stabilize mood swings by providing routine, companionship, and emotional support.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Pets can distract from obsessive thoughts and behaviors, providing a focus for positive interaction and routine.
  • Schizophrenia: Pets offer non-judgmental companionship and can help reduce social isolation, providing a grounding presence.
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Pets can help improve focus and provide structure, aiding in the management of ADHD symptoms.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: Pets can help improve social skills, provide comfort, and reduce anxiety, particularly in children with autism.
  • Panic Disorder: Pets can provide a sense of calm and security, helping to prevent or reduce the severity of panic attacks.

What Are Service Animals?

Service animals are specially trained animals that assist individuals with disabilities by performing specific tasks to help them navigate daily life. These animals are typically dogs, though other animals can also be trained as service animals. They play a crucial role in providing independence, enhancing mental health, and raising the quality of life for their handlers.

Key Roles & Characteristics of Service Animals

  • Trained to Perform Specific Tasks: Unlike pets or emotional support animals, service animals undergo rigorous training to perform tasks directly related to their handler's disability. This can include guiding visually impaired individuals, alerting deaf individuals to sounds, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, stopping someone from physically hurting themselves, or providing stability for those with mobility issues.
  • Types of Service Animals: The most common service animals are guide dogs for the visually impaired and hearing dogs for the deaf or hard of hearing. However, service animals can also assist individuals with other disabilities, including those with physical disabilities, seizure disorders, diabetes, autism, and psychiatric conditions.
  • Legal Protections: Service animals are protected under laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States. These laws ensure that service animals can accompany their handlers in public places, including restaurants, stores, and public transportation, where pets are typically not allowed.
  • Behavior and Training: Service animals must exhibit calm and controlled behavior, especially in public settings. They are trained to focus on their handler's needs and ignore distractions. Their training also includes socialization and exposure to various environments to ensure they can perform their tasks reliably.
  • Emotional and Physical Support: Beyond their specific tasks, service animals often provide emotional support to their handlers, contributing to overall mental well-being and reducing feelings of isolation and anxiety.
  • Identification: While not required by law, many service animals wear vests, harnesses, or other forms of identification indicating their role. Handlers may also carry documentation of their service animal's training and purpose, although they are not legally required to provide this information.

The Value of Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs provide invaluable benefits to individuals experiencing various mental health challenges. Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs are not trained to perform specific tasks but offer comfort, companionship, and emotional stability to their owners.

Emotional support dogs offer a unique and powerful form of therapy, bridging the gap between professional treatment and everyday emotional support. Their unconditional love and constant companionship provide a reliable source of comfort, making a significant difference in the lives of those who need it most. Whether it's reducing stress, improving mood, or providing a sense of security, emotional support dogs play a crucial role in enhancing mental health and well-being.

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs)

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a specially trained service animal that assists individuals with psychiatric disabilities, such as severe depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. These dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate their handler’s psychiatric symptoms, providing both practical and emotional support.

To qualify for a PSD, an individual must have a diagnosed psychiatric disability and a need for the dog’s specific tasks. The disability must significantly impair one or more major life activities.

Improve Your Mental Health Today!

Are you ready to take control of your mental health? At Clarity Clinic, we are dedicated to providing compassionate and comprehensive mental health services tailored to your unique needs. Our experienced team of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists is here to support you every step of the way on your journey to mental wellness.

Our team of highly trained professionals is experienced in treating a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. We believe in a holistic approach to mental health care, combining evidence-based therapies with innovative treatments to ensure the best possible outcomes.

With multiple mental health clinics throughout Chicago, our services are easy to access no matter where you are located. We have clinics in the Loop, River North, Arlington Heights, Lakeview Belmont, Lakeview Broadway, Mokena, and Evanston.

From online therapy to group therapy, we provide a wide range of services so you can find what best suits your needs. Schedule an appointment with the best psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists near you and take a step to improving your mental health today!

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Related Readings:

Pets & Mental Health: Commonly Asked Questions

What is classified as a service dog?

A service dog is a specially trained dog that performs specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities, such as guiding visually impaired people or alerting those with hearing impairments.

What is the difference between a support dog and a service dog?

A service dog is trained to perform specific tasks to aid a person with a disability, while a support dog (or emotional support animal) provides comfort and companionship without specialized task training.

Is a PSD the same as a service dog?

Yes, a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a type of service dog trained to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities by performing specific tasks related to their condition.

What is a psychiatric service dog?

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a service dog trained to help individuals with psychiatric disabilities, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety, by performing tasks like interrupting panic attacks or providing grounding during episodes.

Will a pet help my depression?

Yes, pets can help alleviate symptoms of depression by providing companionship, reducing loneliness, and encouraging physical activity.

Does having a pet help with mental health?

Yes, having a pet can improve mental health by lowering stress, reducing anxiety, and providing emotional support and companionship.

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