Today is World Mental Health Day, and if you own a pet, you’d agree that they help with supporting you emotionally and mentally. Whether it's being there for a hug or helping reduce stressful days, dogs and cats are great ways to combat mental health problems. A 2016 survey of pet owners found that 74% of respondents experienced mental health improvements from having a pet. Another 75% reported that their friends’ and family’s mental health had also been boosted by pet ownership. There are a variety of ways pets improve your mental health, and below are a few examples.
Reducing Symptoms Associated with Mental Health
Positive interactions with pets can help alleviate a variety of common mental problems like high stress, anxiety and depression. Having a dog or cat around also reduces feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which has been very beneficial during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The presence of another living creature within your living space is reassurance that you are not alone.
In fact, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced by interactions with pets. Instead, your body releases oxytocin which lowers stress naturally. Even petting your cat or dog can lower your blood pressure, another symptom of high stress situations.
Other ways pets aid with mental health symptoms are:
- Providing a sense of security
- Lowering anxiety
- Giving unconditional love and support
Building Healthy Habits
Aside from the textbook symptoms of mental health, pets can also shape their owners’ lives outside of treatment. The everyday care of your dog or cat encourages positive habits that impact your mental health. Dogs need regular walks or hikes, which help you get outside and be physically active, which qualifies as exercise. Also, time outside benefits your mental health as well as your physical well-being.
Pets need to be fed at regular intervals and that, in return, puts you on a schedule. Whether it’s getting up in the morning or ensuring you finish work in time for an afternoon walk, your pets help you stay on track during the day. No matter your mood, your animal depends on you, and it can also give you a reason to get up in the morning.
In addition, caring for your dog or cat can also lead you to care more for yourself. Regularly grooming and taking your pet to the vet reminds you to perform these actions for yourself, too.
Supporting Social Connections
Social anxiety is one aspect of mental health that can be sometimes overlooked. However, pets help their owners out by presenting situations where they have to interact with other people. Dog owners out on walks will often receive compliments or questions about their pet, which can lead to conversations. A cat owner will have to answer their veterinarian’s questions, another type of social interaction.
Mental health is improved from these types of connections because they counteract social isolation. Lowering feelings of social isolation can then lead to an increase in self-esteem, an optimistic outlook, and feelings of empathy and trust. All of these positive feelings can help you conquer large life moments such as beginning a new job or taking the next step in your relationship. All of which are easier with a trusty companion at your side.
Support Their Happiness, Too
Thanks to your pet, you’re able to lead a more fulfilled and happier life, and they should be acknowledged for this. It’s beneficial to reward your pet for their help, and show them how much you appreciate them. As mentioned before, regular grooming and visits to the vet aid with general healthiness and possibly increase their life expectancy.
You should also consider other ways to enrich their lives. Cats can benefit from feeling like they have a space all to themselves, such as the basement or a small room where they can be alone, while dogs may benefit from having a bigger yard to run around in. Finding a house that better fits your pet’s basic needs will make both of you happier in the end. Your pet will benefit from an environment where they can play and thrive, just as you would when you have a space you feel comfortable in. Your pet deserves to be treated well for always being there for you.
Mental health is more important than ever, and your pet can be there to help you. From treating symptoms to scheduling out your day, your dog or cat has an impact on improving your mental well-being.