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Pets and Mental Health

3 min read

Pets and Mental Health

Is there any greater mood-booster than being greeted at the door by a four-legged, waggly-tailed friend who can barely contain their excitement to see you? Daily walks with our dogs make the physical benefits of pet ownership seem obvious, but there’s a growing body of evidence that also proves animal companionship can greatly improve our mental health.  Here are some of the ways pets contribute to the mental wellbeing of humans:

Pets give purpose

Most pets rely on their owners for survival. This can mean providing food, water, shelter, exercise and hygienic care. Those duties and the rewards of doing them well, contribute to a sense of responsibility and boost in our self-esteem.

Pets get us moving

The links between fresh air, movement and good mental health are well known. Whether it’s riding our horse, collecting eggs from our chickens, running after our dog on the beach or cleaning out the rabbit hutch, our pets can help us engage in incidental exercise outdoors. That movement and environment causes our brains to release ‘feel good’ endorphins and improves our physical fitness, which can help lift our mood.

Pets are companions

The primary reason most of us seek out pets is for companionship. Pets are often considered members of the family and inter-dependence evolves as they show us affection and unconditional love. However, not all companionship takes the stereotypical form of playing with a dog or cuddling a cat – simply being in the regular presence of any type of animals can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Pets give us structure

The care we provide for our pets also helps us establish a sense of routine. Following basic day-to-day rituals can create a sense of structure and rhythm, which psychologists say can reduce stress, help us to feel secure and reduce our cognitive load.

Pets help us mingle

Social interaction is another ingredient for helping many of us achieve good mental health. Pets can help us create opportunities for meeting people, through attending pet-friendly areas such as dog parks, or events that welcome animals. There are also many clubs and societies representing particular breeds and species where pet owners can connect with like-minded people.

Pets calm us down

Studies show that simply patting an animal can help reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. Many workplaces have recognised the calming effects of animals by promoting ‘bring your pet to work’ (mark that on the calendar, 21st June!)days. Even quietly observing an animal, such as a fish in an aquarium, can help us relax, that’s why many doctors and dentists have aquariums in the waiting room!

Pets are therapeutic

Pets can also be officially prescribed as treatment for people with conditions including mental illnesses. A range of pets (not only dogs) can be specially trained as support animals to help alleviate symptoms and provide comfort not just in the home but in public places around the clock.

If you, or someone you know, is concerned about mental health, it’s also important to see a professional such as your GP or contact a service provider such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Small pet image
Small pet image
Small pet image