The effects of the pandemic have left many around the world experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness, and a lack of energy or motivation. The stresses can be even worse for those who already have mental health issues. Fortunately, the answer might be in our four-legged friends. There is a strong and well-documented connection between pet ownership and mental health.
Pets ownership and mental health
Pet owners will be the first to tell you that they feel more joy in their life because of their pets. One reason is that dogs have been living with us for so long that they understand our well-being, and are acutely aware of the subtle cues and body language we use. Some pet owners even request pet portraits for their new furry family member.
Benefits of pet ownership
Aside from giving us some immediate relief from anxiety, pet ownership also has some long-term benefits that can improve both our physical and emotional health. Here are some ways that we can benefit from pet ownership.
Decrease in anxiety
Petting an animal is calming, and every cat lover knows how peaceful it is to have a cat curl up and purr you to sleep. An Australian study found a 94% reduction in the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety through the tactile stimulation provided by pets. There is considerable support for the effectiveness of therapy pets and their ability to improve the mental health of patients in many circumstances. Health professionals now recommend pets for anxiety as a way of coping.
Increase physical activity
One of the connections between dogs and mental health is through exercise. The mental health benefits of regular exercise are also well-documented. Physicians prescribe regular exercise for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions.
Dogs are especially good when it comes to the exercise component. They need to exercise regularly to burn off energy. A lack of exercise in dogs can lead to behavioral problems because they need to expend pent-up energy. This means that the more you exercise your dog, the better behaved they will be when they are indoors.
Dogs will bring their favorite toy or leash to you and beg for some fun. This will get you up off the couch and outside, which is always good for you. Dogs need it, and so do you.
Walking and running the dog
Why pay for a fitness trainer when you can get a dog? Dogs benefit from regular walks or a good run in the park, and this is one of the best exercises for us, too. People who have an accountability partner are more likely to follow through and do daily exercise than those who try to do it on their own. Your dog will be consistent in begging you for regular walks.
Even a game of catch in the backyard is an excellent form of low-impact exercise. If you are a fitness buff and want a challenge, go for a high-energy breed like a border collie or husky. Your next 5K will be easy because you have the best training partner.
In a study of older adults living alone, a pet was found to provide companionship and ease loneliness. Petting an animal was found to lower cortisol, which is a hormone of stress. It was also found to boost serotonin, which can lower blood pressure and boost your mood. Caring for a pet can also help to give you a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Walking a dog also encourages you to stop and chat with others along the way, especially other dog owners. This helps to increase your socialization and can ease loneliness.
How do I know which pet is right for me?
Many professionals recommend pets for depression and anxiety, but you have to get the right pet for you. Dogs and cats are good pets for anxiety because they seem to understand us, and they will beg for regular attention from us. They are not happy to just sit on the sidelines and want to be a part of our lives. They are happy whether it is going for a walk, curling up on our lap while we read a book, or laying on our keyboard when we are trying to type. It is important to consider the travel requirements when deciding on the right breed for you.
Cats and dogs are the most widely recommended pets, but they might not be right for everyone. A rabbit or guinea pig might be more your speed. Even keeping fish is therapeutic and watching them can have a calming effect. The most important thing is to do your research and find a pet that is a good match.
Can I have a pet in my apartment?
If you aren’t sure if you can have a pet due to housing restrictions, look into engaging a specialist to help with drafting an ESA Emotional Support Letter to provide peace of mind that you are within your legal rights.
The physical and mental health benefits of pets are well-documented. Pets can help us get more exercise, relieve anxiety, and give us companionship. The best part about pet ownership is that they give us much more than we can ever give back. They bring us joy in many ways, so you might consider getting a furry friend soon.