Studies show that pets reduce stress, anxiety and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which helps calm and relax. One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfil the human need for touch.
Petting, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
What can a pet bring to your daily mental health?
- Increasing exercise. Taking a pet for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule.
- Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent feelings of loneliness or isolation.
- Helping you meet new people. Pets can be a great social bridge for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park.
- Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world.
- Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too.
Having a pet is a serious commitment and not something to do on a whim. You’ll need to have the time, money (food, vet, toys etc) and energy for a pet. Fostering a pet or helping a friend with theirs can help you see whether having your own is right for you. If you decide to adopt, consider going to a shelter that is full of loving pets needing a family!
What if I can’t have a pet?
There might be plenty of reasons why you want but might not be in a position to get a pet. Don’t discourage there are alternatives that also will be good for your mental health!
- Volunteer at a rescue in your town to help take care of the animals, walk and play with them!
- Spend time with friends’ pets! They might be glad to have someone to petsit for them while they’re on holiday.
- Offer petsitting, you can be around pets and also help others!