How Pets Help Improve Mental Health of Humans
Wed, April 21, 2021

How Pets Help Improve Mental Health of Humans

According to the results of a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 67% of US households own a pet. / Photo by: Anurak Ponapatimet via 123rf

 

Having a pet waiting for you to get home is enough reason to look forward to the end of the day when you can finish your shift, go straight home, and play with your furry friend that is full of gladness for seeing you once again. Experts have also chimed in on this, declaring that an energetic pooch running around your backyard or a sleepy cat that waits for you to feed it can help in improving your mental health. The simple things that your pets do are also said to be helpful in enriching your life and making you happier. 

MDLinx, a website that connects healthcare professionals and patients, shared the results of a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). It said that 67 percent of US households own a pet. In the survey, they found out the following interesting information: 

- 63.4 million Americans own dogs

- 42.7 million own cats

- 11.5 million own freshwater fish

- 5.7 million own birds

- 5.4 million own small animals

- 4.5 million own reptiles

- 1.6 million each own horses or saltwater fish

In light of these numbers, it’s safe to assume that a lot of people have seemed to realize that having a pet or two can do good for one’s health. There are many ways how owners can reap the benefits.

Psychiatric Assistance

An online survey on members of a nonprofit organization called “mindDog” who owned psychiatric assistance dogs was conducted to gain a better understanding of the relationship between these animals and the humans who take care of them. The owners were also diagnosed with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. 

In the article published by Psychiatry Advisor, an online resource for psychiatric healthcare professionals, it was explained how most psychiatric service dogs were able to prove themselves capable of performing tasks for their owners, including reminding them to take medication for their illness. Moreover, these helpful little guys also help in reducing their owner’s anxiety through tactile stimulation, bringing them back to the present with a simple nudging or pawing, and preventing contact with other individuals. 

The results of the study also showed that these dogs are able to perform specific tasks that can help their owners live a healthier and more positive life. The investigators arrived at the conclusion that more knowledge on the person-dog relationship will provide a better guide on the right choice, training, and use of this kind of dogs for the benefit of people with mental health issues such as schizophrenia.

 

Psychiatric dogs help in reducing their owner’s anxiety by bringing them back to the present with a simple nudging or pawing. / Photo by: belchonock via 123rf

 

Unconditional Love

Pets are known to be a vessel of unconditional and unyielding loyalty for their responsible owners. The Sun UK, a tabloid newspaper, shared on their website that a survey by the Cats Protection charity found that 93.7 percent of feline owners claimed that their cats helped them improve their mental health. 

The simple act of petting and playing with their pets can have a significant effect on the pet owner’s health. “Our #MoreThanJustACat research shows cats have moved closer to humans in terms of providing friendship and support as well as becoming key members of the modern-day family,” Kate Bunting, Cats Protection spokeswoman, said in an interview. 

A pet’s unconditional love also helps in creating a bond and companionship that can last for a long time. Based on a meta-analysis of 17 studies of people who lived with long-term mental health conditions, pet ownership provided a sense of “ontological security” that consists of feelings of stability, continuity, and meaning. 

Improves Social Interactions

In an article published by the Harvard Health Publishing, the media and publishing division of the Harvard Medical School of Harvard University, it was mentioned that pets can help their owners create meaningful social support and friendships, which is good for long-term health. 

The simple act of dog walking can provide the opportunity to create new friends. “I didn’t meet many people when I moved into my new neighborhood, but that changed when we got Reesee, our Goldendoodle. She opened the door to a new universe of people,” revealed Dr. Elizabeth Frates, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, in the Harvard article. 

Researchers from the University of Western Australia, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the WALTHAM Center for Pet Nutrition surveyed around 2,700 men and women in four cities in Australia. They found out that being a pet owner was the third most common way the survey respondents met people they haven’t known before in their area. 

“Pet ownership appears to be a significant factor for facilitating social interaction and friendship formation within neighborhoods,” said Dr. Lisa Wood, associate professor at the University of Western Australia. 

 

The simple act of dog walking can provide the opportunity to create new friends. / Photo by: Dean Drobot via 123rf

 

Mood Boosters

Taking care of an animal and adopting them into your family can give you an unlimited source of happiness. Pets such as dogs and cats can easily reduce the feelings of loneliness that one might feel from time to time. Help Guide, a nonprofit mental health and wellness website, explained that pets are able to provide valuable companionship for people of different ages. 

Spending time with them can elevate the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are the chemicals in the brain that can make a person feel relaxed and calm. As they add structure and routine to your day, pets can distract you from the lonely and depressing thoughts that might run through your minds in the face of everyday problems.