How Pets Help Your Mental Health

How Pets Help Your Mental Health

There’s a reason why animal videos are hugely popular across the internet: these critters make us happy! In fact, many scientific studies reinforce how watching cute animals helps relieve anxiety and stress. So just imagine how you’ll feel engaging with animals IRL (in real life). Whether you’re trying to manage depression symptoms or simply need a daily boost of unconditional love, there are many ways pets help your mental health. 

The Many Benefits of Human and Animal Relationships

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to make a true connection with an animal, and it could be a key component in your long-lasting recovery. In an article for the Washington Post, Marjie Alonso—the former executive director of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the IAABC Foundation—stated, “Often, pets are our first or even only chosen family when we leave childhood homes, when we live alone, when our children leave, when we go through breakups. Our pets provide a steady, stable presence in a way humans do not.”

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) delves a little deeper into the concept. In 2022, it released results of a worldwide study of more than 16,000 pet owners and 1,200 veterinarians, which indicated that 95 percent of people consider their pet a part of their family, and “98 percent reported that they have personally experienced health benefits from having a pet in their lives.” Notable improved conditions included:  

  • Addiction recovery
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Chemotherapy
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Depression
  • Elder loneliness
  • Mood disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stroke

Additionally, “virtually all pet owners around the world reported at least one specific benefit to their health from their pets including increased happiness, reduced loneliness, and decreased stress,” HABRI reports. 

“Pets tend to be always the same, even on good and bad days, reliably who they are and reliably ours in our relationship with them,” Alonso added. This might be another reason why they’re beneficial to our emotional, mental, and physical health. HABRI outlines more specific benefits we gain from our animal companions, which we provide verbatim: 

  • One area of support pets provided is “emotional work”, or the ability to alleviate worry and provide comfort. A common theme was that owners often describe their pet as intuitively knowing when they need support. In addition, pet owners reported that they could confide worries and secrets in their pets.
  • In addition to the presence of a pet, the practical work involved in caring for a pet, such as feeding, was reported to be a pleasant distraction from mental health concerns.
  • Pets were also found to contribute to a stronger sense of identity in pet owners with mental health conditions, including reducing negative perceptions of a mental health condition or diagnosis.

So while online peeks at animal antics provide a helpful zip of oxytocin to elevate your mood now and again, you’ll likely feel even better with in-person engagement. 

Do You Need to Actually Have a Pet for Better Mental Health?

Not necessarily, although who wouldn’t want to, right? There are many ways to introduce more furry or feathered love into your life. 

  • Become a dog walker. Do some of your neighbors need assistance providing regular exercise for their pets? Most canines love regular outings to sniff, play, and interact with their human friends. You could volunteer or even set up a little side hustle doing this.
  • Offer to cat sit. Despite the feline’s reputation for sleeping all day and not caring if people are around or not (except at feeding time), they actually do require consistent enrichment and get lonely when their usual humans are away. If you have family members or friends on the go, peek in on their kitties for them. 
  • Volunteer with a local animal shelter or rescue. These organizations are always—always!—in need of kind, patient people to help out on various levels. Even if you only have an hour or two a week, the staff and animals will be grateful for your attention. 
  • Commit to fostering. Animals in the shelter environment are more adoptable when properly socialized and trained. Foster pet parents are valuable links in this process by personally caring for them and acclimating them to a home atmosphere.  

Before choosing an animal companion of your own, take time to research different breeds, their temperaments, and their health needs. For example, beautiful working breeds such as Siberian huskies are loyal, active, quite vocal—and a little mischievous! They might not be the best first dog compared to, say, the more laid back and easy-to-train, adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Some cat breeds, like Persians, are quite social and playful but require a lot of grooming, while others, such as the Russian Blue, are more independent and just need brushing now and again. 

If you rescue a mixed breed pet, you might not know their exact lineage, but you can learn more about their background and provide behavioral training to help them be their best.

Ivory Plains: Providing Solutions for a Better Life

Animals and addiction recovery might not be a combination you think of right away, but the board-certified staff at our addiction rehabilitation program in Adair, Iowa strives to give you every opportunity to learn better methods for healing and resiliency. Both our residential care treatment and partial hospitalization or day treatment programs provide customized solutions to your aftercare needs so you develop the confidence to not only know yourself, but also reinforce your recovery in more healthful ways. If you’re ready for this type of unwavering commitment to your wellness, call us today to learn how we can help.

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