Does Having a Pet Actually Improve Your Mental Health?
Updated: Feb 25
Pets are cute. That’s an indisputable fact. They make great material for Instagram posts, they make us laugh, and they love us unconditionally (yes, even cats). But the benefits they provide might go far beyond that.
You’ve probably heard that having a pet – namely cats and dogs – can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. If you had a pet as a kid or if you have children with pets, you most likely believe that caring for an animal can help children grow up to be more responsible, empathetic, and active. But pets aren’t only great for children; adults love pets and often find that they provide a wonderful source of companionship. But what does the research say?
Let’s Check the Research
Research that has been done finds that pets really do help with our mental and even our physical health. This is the reason that therapy animals, emotional support animals (ESA), and guide/service animals exist. They not only alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, they add benefits to our physical health as well.
When playing with cats and dogs, our levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are hormones that calm and relax our nervous system, increase. Finding joy and entertainment in the adorable things our pets do helps stimulate the release of these “happiness hormones”.
It is also believed that petting a dog can decrease the levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, and increase the release of oxytocin, which is associated with social bonding and can act as a stress-reducer.
While the research isn’t that strong, we chose two studies that you might enjoy knowing about:
Study 1: The positive consequences of pet ownership
In a 2011 study conducted by Miami University and Saint Louis University in the United States, 217 people were asked to answer questions about their wellbeing, personality type, and attachment style, and pet owners were found to be happier, healthier, and better adjusted than those who did not own any pets. In the same study, 56 dog owners were involved in an experiment which examined the owners’ feelings towards their pets, as well as their wellbeing, which found that people reported that their dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and meaning. The study also examined 97 undergraduates where the average of the age group was 19 and discovered that adolescents fare better after experiencing rejection if they have pets.
Study 2: The impact pets have on managing mental disorders in everyday life
In 2016, the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom conducted a study involving 54 participants who had been diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of those who participated, 60% had listed their pet in their most important circle of supportive connections, and about half of the group claimed that their pet contributed a significant role in helping them manage their illness. Some even went as far as saying that their pet helped distract them from symptoms like hearing voices and experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Lastly, looking after a pet also gave owners a feeling of being in control because it provided them with a sense of security and routine.
What About Physical Health?
We’ve touched up on the importance of exercise in a previous blog, and pets can be a great source of motivation to keep you moving. When you have a dog, for example, you’re required to take them on daily walks multiple times a day.
We’re not entirely sure about this, as there’s also not enough research supporting it, but it is believed that cat purrs could be medically therapeutic for illnesses in humans. I know you were looking for that ‘Hz’ and frequencies thing in the articles we usually write, so here it is:
Cat purrs can range between 20-140 Hz, and depending on their range, these purrs can have different healing capabilities.
While pets are not a substitution for mental health treatment, they definitely are a great addition to improving your mental health overall, so if you were looking for an excuse to get a pet, just have your significant other read this.