Emotional benefits of pet ownership
The soft purr of a cat as it warms up to you. The cuddle of a dog laying at your feet. The singing of birds as you enter. Pets can provide a wondrous sense of love and connection, special from that of others.
This unique relationship can provide a bounty of mental health benefits, enough to have you thinking that, yes, life just may be better with a pet.
How pets support mental health
Interacting with a pet can boost mood and decrease symptoms associated with anxiety. Togetherness can soothe feelings of loneliness (particularly in those living by themselves). Engaging the sense of touch, as well as making eye contact, can nurture connection with a living being.
Being responsible for an animal can bring purpose and meaning to one’s life. Unconditional love paired with something by your side may cultivate healthy self-confidence. Taking care of another being can develop kindness and compassion.
The opportunity to interact with other people (such as at a dog park), can promote increased socialization. Laughter and optimism can result from animal playfulness. Petting and cuddling with a household pet when stressed can induce relaxation. Attachment to an animal may increase positive and mindful behavior towards animals (particularly in children). Engaging with a pet can give way to living in the moment.
Supporting mental health disorders with pets
In addition to the plethora of general mental health perks, specific disorders may benefit from pets as well.
Research shows that those with ADHD may benefit from a structured schedule of feeding and walking an animal, while those on the autism spectrum may discover an increase in social skills and self-esteem due to the soft and warm sensory experience a pet provides.
Furthermore, those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may find solace in a service dog companion.
And whether it’s through equine-assisted therapy for depression and addiction or a visiting hospital therapy dog that helps to calm anxiety and grief, specially trained animals can provide support for a variety of mental health needs.
What if I don’t own a pet?
While pet ownership has a plethora of perks – both mental and physical – a household animal may not be an option for some. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to still enjoy the advantages provided by these beautiful creatures.
If taking care of your own pet is unrealistic or not allowed in your place of residency, consider:
- volunteering at an animal shelter
- fostering adoptable pets
- offering pet sitting and walking services
- spending time with friends and family who have pets
- taking horseback riding lessons
Exposure to pets and the opportunity to interact with them can be a gift. The unconditional love these cherished animals provide can make them a prized companion teeming with health benefits.