Pets are proven to help reduce stress and anxiety and, in many homes, they play a vital role in easing loneliness. Dogs in particular can contribute to cardiovascular health as well as a social side when you’re out walking with them.
Studies show that pets can have huge benefits to your mental health, from childhood to old age.
To promote Mental Health Awareness week, we’ve come up with six ways that pet ownership could be benefitting your mental health:
1. They’re great listeners
Our pets are always there for us, and we often get the impression they know when we’re feeling down or upset. Maybe that’s why according to research conducted by the University of Melbourne, around 50% of adults and 70% adolescents who own a pet regularly confide in them.
2. They can help reduce the effects of depression and loneliness
Pets are a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation,, often helping us to live mentally healthier lives – sometimes without even realising it. In particular, the regular exercise from walking a dog can be beneficial for people suffering with depression.
Pets also offer company and someone to share the day with, which is incredibly valuable for pet-owners who experience loneliness, particularly in later life.
3. They can help with anxiety
Petting and playing with your pet reduces stress-related hormones, even after just 5 minutes of interaction. In fact, playing with your pet raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine; these are the hormones that calm and relax the nervous system. When we smile, laugh or converse with our pets, this helps stimulate the release of ‘happiness hormones’.
4. They support our overall well being
According to HABRI, 74% of pet owners say that owning a pet has improved their mental health. Studies show that human-animal interaction increases oxytocin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of calm, comfort and focus.
Not only that, but a study of over 600 cat owners by Cats Protection and the Mental Health Foundation found that 87% felt owning a cat had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76% said they could better cope with life thanks to the company of their pet.
5. They can help children with autism and ADHD
According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), pet therapy sessions have shown to increase social functions, decrease isolation and improve independence in children with autism.
Similarly, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can benefit from keeping a pet. By taking charge of feeding, walking and bathing, they can learn to plan and take responsibility. The exercise that playing with a pet offers also releases excess energy to help children feel calmer at night.
6. They help us in later life
Pets make great companions, particularly for dementia patients. Dog-assisted therapy has been shown to improve mood, psychosocial functioning and quality of life in people with dementia.
Many care homes have resident pets or receive regular visits from animals as part of their recreational schedule; not only do they create a calmer, more homely environment for residents, it’s thought that they reduce anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease.