Are Pets Good For Mental Health?

We have all experienced challenging or tough times or just had a bad day. And with that stress we can have a whole range of emotions like frustration, anger, or sadness.  Our pets are sensitive to those emotions.  I can’t count how many times my dogs, and more recently, my foster cats have come to my rescue. Are pets good for mental health?  Yes, pets can improve our emotions and our mental well-being in different ways. Here are a few ways they have helped me and how pets can help you.

They can make us smile and often laugh when they do cute or silly things.Young cats are continually doing silly things.  Yes, they rip some things up, but their antics when they play together can be hilarious.  When you smile, your serotonin and dopamine levels increase. Serotonin and dopamine are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness. So in this way, pets can really help improve mental and emotional health.

No matter the weather, my dogs get me outside for fresh air and exercise.   Sun and fresh air can elevate your mood and the sun gives you an extra dose of vitamin D which helps fight depression. When you go outside with your pet you are engaging with nature. The sounds and feeling of nature can be incredibly calming.  I am very fortunate to live close to a state park that has wonderful walking trails through forest and along a beautiful river. Walking with the forest smells and the sound of the running water is very relaxing and calming.  Walking, hiking, tossing a Frisbee, or any other exercise can give you a natural energy boost.  It is a way to let off steam and a way to just have fun. This helps reduce stress and keeps you more physically fit which helps not only your body, but also your self-esteem. Studies have shown that having a more active lifestyle helps both adults and children. Studies also show pet owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, better circulation, and a lower risk of experiencing major cardiac issues. When your body feels stronger, you feel mentally better.

pets good for emotional healthSince moving to Durham, I have met so many people through my dogs at dog parks, trainings, competition events, and just going for a walk. Studies have shown that walking with a dog leads to more conversations and helps people stay more socially connected.  Also, there are studies that show people that have more social relationships tend to live longer and are less likely to have the mental and physical declines associated with getting older. So, having a dog can help you have more friends and improve your social life,and can lessen your isolation and feelings of loneliness.

My pets are great listenersI can talk to them about anything, my day, my hopes and dreams. I even practice my business presentations and talks with them. A dog or cat can be the perfect listener to go to when you want to vent without any potential repercussions. They can also take your thoughts off of your worries. When you are fully in the moment, you are not worrying about the past or the future. It’s just you and your pet.  Research suggests having a pet has special benefits to children.  An expert in child development and behavior observed that that when children are asked who they talk to when they get upset, a lot of times their first answer is their pet.  This indicates pets as being important to children as a source of comfort and developing empathy.

Rhythmic petting or grooming can be comforting and stress reducing to your dog or cat, and you. When you connect with your pet, oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief, is released, helping to reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels.

No matter what happens, I know my pets love me unconditionally. Coming home from a  bad day and seeing Sadie’s happy wiggles and hearing her welcoming howl instantly boosts my mood.   She grunts or purrs. She doesn’t care if you just screwed up a deal at work, or bombed a test, she loves you for being you, whatever that means on any given day. She’s just happy to see you. She wants to be around you, to love you, and be loved by you.

They can give you a purpose: Having a pet to care for can give you a feeling of purpose, which can be crucial when you are feeling really down and overwhelmed by negative thoughts. By caring for your pet, or another person or animal in need, you are focusing on something other than yourself and your life. Your good deeds, and your pet’s positive response will give you a feeling of instant gratification.  So, pets can be good for our mental health.

One of the ways you can show your appreciation for your pet is to give your pet a massage.  If you would instructions on how to do this for your pet or you’d just like to have a professional do it for you, give us a call at 919-452-3467.


National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dept. of Health and Human Services. Can Pets Help Keep You Healthy?  Exploring the Human-Animal Bond.  NIH News in Health.  February 2009

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