How Pets Affect Mental Health

Adding a pet to your life is a big commitment. By getting a pet, you agree to take care of another creature for the rest of their life. You have to consider the time and money you'll need to invest in pet care. On the flip side, having a pet has a lot of rewards, including mental health benefits.

People of all ages find that having a pet improves their mood, lowers their stress, and eases loneliness. The responsibilities of pet care aren't a chore — they're a soothing routine that helps people focus and organize their days. Pets provide love and companionship to their owners in good times and bad. 

How Pets Can Improve Mental Health

Every pet owner instinctively knows that pets make them feel good. Whether it's a dog greeting you at the door or a cat purring contentedly in your lap, your pet is there to offer unconditional love and acceptance. But there is real science behind the benefits of owning pets. The benefits of animal companions range from heart health to helping with stress and anxiety. 

Companionship. Living with a pet means you have someone with you whenever you're at home. Pet owners say that they feel less alone compared to people who don't own pets. Pets can also help you connect with other people around you. For example, dog owners tend to meet their neighbors and connect with people in their community.

Mood booster. Just looking at your pet might make you happier. Studies show that eye contact with your dog can release a hormone that makes you feel happy. This hormone is called oxytocin and is sometimes called the love hormone. It provides an immediate mood booster.

Healthy routines. Having a pet means having to take care of their needs every day. Setting up a schedule for feeding, grooming, and exercising a pet is a good way to provide stability and predictability in your life. For people struggling with anxiety or depression, routines offer an important feeling of control. For children, taking care of a pet builds a sense of responsibility. This may help kids with all kinds of relationships in life.

Stress reduction. Most pet owners know that petting your dog or cat is a quick way to de-stress, but there is a scientific explanation for how pets help with anxiety. Being around pets can lower the stress hormone cortisol, which helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

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Other Benefits of Pets

Pets can help your body as well as your mind. There have been decades of studies about the physical and mental health benefits of spending time with dogs. Many dog owners have better overall physical health thanks to the exercise they get with their pets. Walking a dog regularly is an excellent way to keep active. 

Your pet could also become a part of your work team. People enjoy seeing pets on video chats. You don't need to have a pet of your own to reap the benefits of pets on your work. Simply seeing a colleague's pet during a video meeting can improve morale for everyone on the call.

Before You Get a Pet

If you think having a pet would be good for your mental health, take some time to think about the best kind of pet for your lifestyle. Consider these things when you start looking for a new pet:

Space. Choose a pet that will be content in your home. Think about how much indoor and outdoor space your pet will need. Plan out space for any supplies you will need to fit into your house, such as a dog crate, reptile habitat, or cages for small pets.

Cost. All pets need vet care and food. Some dogs and cats need grooming, which can be an extra cost. If you travel, think about the price of pet care while you're away or how much it'll cost to bring your pet with you. 

Age. Puppies and kittens are adorable, but they're a lot of work. On the other hand, older animals might have health concerns that need attention. However, they might be calmer companions.

Exercise. Some dogs require a lot of activity while cats may be content to hang out on the couch all day. Small animals like rodents or reptiles can stay in their small habitats all the time. Choose a pet whose activity level matches yours.

Having a pet can be one of the most rewarding relationships in your life. You can learn more about animals by talking to a vet or animal trainer in your area. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on July 08, 2021

Sources

‌SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "5 Ways Pets Help Mental Health While Working from Home."

American Kennel Club: "10 Science-Based Benefits of Having a Dog."

ASPCA: "PET CARE COSTS."

Nationwide Children's Hospital: "Pets and Mental Health: How Furry Friends Can Impact Your Child's Life."

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals: "Get PetWise."

Psychoneuroendocrinology: "The effect of a service dog on salivary cortisol awakening response in a military population with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."

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