A recent systematic review conducted by researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton looked at 17 international research papers to examine the role pets had on owners with a mental health condition. They found that pets can provide benefits to those with mental health issues.

These are the various ways in which pets can significantly improve the lives of those living with mental illness:

Reduce Anxiety:

Snuggling and stroking your pets has been found to dramatically reduce stress and anxiety. Connecting with your pets releases the hormone oxytocin (related to trust, love and attachment) which helps reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels.

A clinical trial in which hypertensive stockbrokers were randomly assigned to either pet or no-pet conditions found that when put in a stressful situation, subjects in the pet group showed lower increases in blood pressure than did those in the non-pet control condition (Allen, Shykoff, & Izzo, 2001).

Provide Purpose:

Having to take care of a pet gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Your furry friend relies on you for survival – this responsibility gives you a meaning. Pets also provide a routine. You have to feed them, take them on walks, play with them, etc. Having a routine has been found to help with depression.

Prevent Loneliness:

Having a pet ensures you are never alone. You will always have the companionship of another living creature. Not only do you have the company of your pet, but often they can also initiate human interaction. Dog owners regularly interact with other dog owners when they are out on walks. Human interaction is just as crucial for wellbeing as owning a pet.

Keep You Active:

Owning pets such as dogs requires you to take them out on daily walks which, in turn, can also help you keep physically active.

An epidemiological study of Chinese women found that pet owners exercised more, slept better, felt more physically fit, and missed fewer days from work than women without pets. Further, these effects were particularly strong for individuals who reported that they were very firmly attached to their pets. (review by Headey & Grabka, 2011)

Exercise has been found to have an enormous impact on mental health – what better motivator to get off the couch than gorgeous puppy dog eyes staring at you.

In Conclusion:

There are many fantastic benefits to keeping a pet, and they can greatly enrich your life. However, they are not a replacement for traditional therapy and medication, and it is still important to seek professional help despite the respite our furry friends can bring.

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29 thoughts on “How Pets Benefit Mental Health

  1. There’s nothing like being depressed, laying in the bed all day, and then realizing I need to feed my cats and scoop their poop (one day I’ll teach them to do it for themselves). It motivates me to get up and take care of them because they take care of me with their love and companionship. Pets are the best!

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  2. Pets are wonderful. My cat Maui did all you discussed and showed me the meaning of grit by overcoming a severe disability (his back legs stopped working) with perseverance and patience. I called him my miracle cat.

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  3. Our biggest issue is that my husband and I believe that having to look after one more living creature in our household bursting with humans would greatly increase our anxiety, although we agree the kids would love it! Currently we are choosing our own sanity over that of our children. Perhaps wrongly. Perhaps it would be the answer to all our problems but until a few years pass, and more people can be responsible for the life of an animal, we wait. There will be a tipping point I am sure, when they are all a bit older. The theory is sound I’m sure, lots of love L

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  4. I have been encouraging a cat to visit us by giving it treats. Mum who is living with dementia is definitely benefitting from the visits. I may get her a cat, but the question will be what to do with the cat when she needs to go into respite to give me a break, and who looks after it when mum eventually goes into a home. May have to be satisfied with enticing the local cat to hang out with us.

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  5. Very true! I have a Great Dane & am most nurtured & feel an interesting security having her in my life. I was able to rescue her from the middle of the desert; we actually rescued each other. Very grateful for my buddy, Sugar.

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  6. I don’t believe that love and trust are caused by a hormone. It is more likely that love and trust are what causes the hormonal changes. A pet can affect people psychologically, it doesn’t need to be interpreted as a medical issue. These psychiatrists today seem to think that everything about our minds is a biological issue. I still believe that there is a spirit and a mind that is separate from our bodies.

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