By Nicole Abrego
You may have seen the quote “the best therapist has fur and four legs” floating around the internet on inspirational memes, but is there any truth to this saying? According to studies performed by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), our pets can actually benefit our mental health in a variety of ways.
Here are the top ways having a pet can benefit your mental health:
Combats Feelings of Loneliness
With humans currently practicing social distancing and staying home to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, feelings of loneliness and isolation can creep up as we distance ourselves from other humans. On the other hand, we now get to spend more time with our furry family members (which isn’t such a bad thing!). Having a pet around has been shown to help decrease the feeling of isolation and loneliness, due to pets providing a sense of companionship.
According to a 2019 study performed by HABRI, “80% of pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely. When it comes to both pet owners and non-pet-owners, 85% of respondents believe interaction with a companion animal can help reduce loneliness and 76% agree human-animal interactions can help address social isolation. Further, pet owners with the closest bond to their pet see the highest positive impact on their feelings of loneliness and social isolation.” Having a pet in the household has also shown to help lower levels of depression as a result of our pets offering unlimited companionship and unconditional love.
Pets Help Us Build Social Bonds with Others
When it comes to social interactions with other humans, pets are a great way to facilitate meetings with others. Pets are wonderful conversation starters, whether you’re walking your dog in the park or posting a photo of your new cat online, a cute dog or cat can help humans connect over their mutual love of their pets and shared experiences of owning a pet. These social interactions with other humans can help relieve social anxiety, as you are able to bond with others over a common interest.
This is especially true when you consider the many social events that are based around pets created each year, such as doggie beach days, conventions, and meetups. These events centered around pets provide opportunities for fellow pet lovers to meet others, potentially make some new friends, and most importantly, have fun.
Helps Alleviate Stress
Your furry loved one not only helps you build relationships with others, having a pet around has also been shown to help alleviate stress. In a study done by the University of British Columbia where dogs were taken to college campuses for a “therapy dog session” and students were able to interact and play with the dogs, “The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session.”
Furthermore, interacting with a pet has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. So when your pet is asking for belly rubs, it benefits the both of you!
Builds Healthy Habits
Taking care of a pet that is dependent on you is the perfect motivation for building healthy habits. Need to get up earlier? Fido or Fluffy need to be fed in the morning so there’s always a reason to wake up, get out of bed, and start the day. Need to exercise more? Fido needs to be walked daily and so this is prime time to go out and enjoy the outdoors with your favorite pup.
Having to care for a pet also helps to remind us humans to practice caring for ourselves and our own health. Whenever you schedule your furry family member for their annual or bi-annual exam, don’t forget to schedule a check-up for yourself. Health is wealth!
The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.