Pets and Mental Health
Updated: May 11
Many pet owners are familiar with the joy owning an animal can bring. What’s less well known are the health benefits having a pet provides. Finding the right pet for you or someone you care about will depend on factors like your lifestyle (some pets will require greater attention and maintenance than others), living situation (what sort of pets are allowed, are they appropriate given the property), and your reason for wanting a pet.
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Lowers depression and anxiety symptoms
Particularly through the provision of routine, the encouragement of exercise and fresh air, and the fulfilment of some of our basic needs. Pets can alleviate feelings of loneliness by keeping us company.
Provide structure and routine
Routine is important for mental wellbeing. Because pets typically require a regular feeding and exercise schedule, having a pet adds structure to your days. Looking after a pet can be a reminder to take care of yourself as you’re already looking after another being.
Pets encourage more exercise
Having a pet, particularly a dog, encourages more activity as you need to walk them regularly. Cats and rabbits can be good to – they may get you outside to spend time with them. Fresh air and moderate exercise is beneficial for mental wellbeing.
There are a number of studies that link owning a dog to weight loss. The simple act of walking a dog resulted in participants losing weight while making no other lifestyle changes.
Pets can fulfil some of our basic needs
Consider the hierarchy of needs: Pets can fulfil some of our basic human needs.
- Our need for touch. Stroking a pet can have a calming effect, thereby mitigating some anxiety.
- Our need for love and belonging. Pets can offer love without judgement. They offer companionship for lonely people. Not to mention, walking a dog tends to lead to conversations with other dog owners or dog lovers, thereby increasing opportunities to socialise. This can be particularly beneficial to people who are less socially connected and more withdrawn, or even people with social anxiety, as it provides a topic of conversation to focus on.
Pets are beneficial for children
Growing up with a pet reduces the risk of allergies and asthma. Helping to take care of a pet can help teach children responsibility, and may also increase their compassion and empathy.
Having a pet can reduce some of the stress and frustration experienced by children with learning disabilities, as well as calm hyperactive or aggressive children, or even children with separation anxiety.
Pets can be a significant protective factor for older adults
Having a pet later in life can bring a sense of purpose and joy. This is important particularly for older adults whose children have left home and have retired – with less to do, life can have less meaning. Taking care of a pet helps with this. Research also suggests that Alzheimer patients have fewer anxiety related outbursts if they have a pet in their home.