Mental Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

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A Loyal Pet can Improve Mental & Physical Health

Most people are aware of the joys that come along with sharing companionship with an animal. However, not everyone is aware of the mental health benefits that can accompany the happiness you feel when you are snuggled up with your furry friend. A loyal pet, especially cats and dogs, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, a pet can add real happiness and unconditional love to your life.

In many ways, pets can help us to live healthier lives.
  • Increasing Exercise – Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run is a fun and rewarding way to fit healthy exercise into your daily schedule. Dog owners are more likely to reach their daily exercise goals, and daily exercise is great for your dog as well!
  • Reducing Anxiety – The companionship of your pet can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence. Because pets tend to live in the moment, they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joys of the present.
  • Providing Companionship – Companionship can help prevent illness and can even add years to your life. Caring for a pet can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a happy pet!
  • Keeping a Routine – Many pets require a regular schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood – depressed, anxious, or stressed – one plaintive look from your pet and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.

Your pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship, and motivation for you. Dogs especially are great at encouraging exercise, and this can be beneficial if you suffer from depression. Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just stroking, sitting with, or playing with a pet can give you a chance to relax and calm your mind. Caring for a pet gives your day a purpose and reward which in turn can help you feel valuable and needed.

It doesn’t have to be a dog or cat!

A pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat – even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension.
If you are thinking of getting a household pet, here are some less-common options:

  • Snakes & Lizards – A reptile companion might appeal to those who are allergic to furry pets, or just find a reptile’s exotic, unusual beauty intriguing. Lizards and snakes can grow attached to their owners and can recognize those who care, handle, and feed them. Some may even ask to be petted by raising their necks up.
  • Rabbits & Small Mammals – A rabbit or small mammal can be a great family pet, is not as high maintenance as dogs and cats, but still has lots of energy and personality. Owning a rabbit can help reduce stress hormones and increase serotonin levels in your brain. Petting or snuggling your furry friend can also help lower blood pressure.
  • Birds – Companion birds encourage social interaction, which can be beneficial if you live alone. Talking and teaching tricks to your bird can promote healthy cognitive function.
  • Fish – You might have noticed fish tanks in many doctors’ or dentists’ offices, retirement homes, or other medical facilities. There’s a good reason for this! Keeping and watching fish has been proven to reduce stress and calm your heart rate.
Alternatives to Pet Ownership

If you don’t have the time or money to commit to owning a pet, there are still ways to experience the health benefits of being around animals even for just a short period of time. Here are just a few examples:

  • Offering to walk a neighbors dog
  • Volunteering to help care for homeless pets at an animal shelter
  • Fostering an animal temporarily until a permanent home is found for them
  • Pet sitting for family and friends