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:
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).
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.
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.
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.