Man’s best friend makes for more than just a great companion. In fact, owning any kind of furry, scaley, or feathery friend may come with enormous and surprising health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
Numerous studies show there are several benefits of owning a pet for your mental and physical health. If you struggle with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, a pet could be what you need to help improve your quality of life. If you are looking to give your physical health a small boost, a dog could help you get started in the right direction as well. So, whether you currently have an animal sidekick or are looking to adopt a furry companion, our mental health professionals are sharing some of the many benefits of pets that you could enjoy.
We all have stress in our lives, but some of us manage it better than others. Stress can make mental health conditions such as depression worse or increase your risk of developing a mental illness, but animals have been shown to reduce stress. Some colleges bring dogs and cats on campus to help alleviate students’ stress. Even just ten minutes of interaction can have significant results.1 Although owning a pet comes with a lot of responsibility, studies also show that dog owners were generally less stressed than non-dog owners.2
Lower Risk of Depression
Owning a pet has been shown time and time again to lower your risk of depression or keep your symptoms from getting worse for several different suspected reasons. Not only can pets distract you from negative thoughts, but also they can give you a sense of purpose and help you feel wanted which can all decrease depressive symptoms.3,4 While a pet is no substitute for professional depression treatment for those with more severe symptoms, pets may aid in the healing process.
One of the other reasons, pets decrease depression may be because they decrease loneliness. Being lonely is associated with a higher risk of getting depression or of having symptoms of depression become worse. If you live alone or don’t have family nearby to spend time with, a pet can provide you with companionship on a regular basis. Just having them around and spending quality time with them can help you feel less lonely.
Reduced Risk of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States,6 but having a cat cuddled up next to you or a dog in your lap may help. Studies have shown that just petting or interacting with an animal reduced self-reported anxiety when people were faced with a stressor.3 Owning a pet may help you manage an anxiety disorder more effectively while also lowering your risk of having it get worse, but do not neglect to get formal anxiety disorder treatment if you need it.
Being social isn’t easy for everyone, especially if you struggle with anxiety, depression, or another mood disorder. Fortunately, one of the benefits of pets is that they may help you socialize. Dogs, for example, give you a good reason to interact with others as you go for a walk around the neighborhood or visit the dog park.3 Another study from Australia found that pet owners were 60% more likely to get to know their neighbors than non-pet owners. 7
Many people struggling with poor mental health also have low self-esteem, but caring for a dog, cat, or other pet may also help you feel more confident and give your self-esteem a boost. Multiple studies suggest that pet ownership, especially dog ownership, is connected to higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth.8
Better Physical Health
Having a pet doesn’t just help your mental health. There are many physical benefits of owning a pet as well. Certain pets, such as dogs, can help you meet your daily exercise goals. Taking your dog for walks, for example, is a great form of cardio activity that can improve your heart and lung health. Other studies suggest that people who live alone with a dog decrease their risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36% and lower their risk of heart attack by 11% compared to people who live alone without a pet. 9 So, if you are looking for a way to boost your mental health, it may be time to adopt an animal companion. Just remember to only get a pet if you are ready for the responsibility because it’s not fair to the animal to be neglected. Although there are many benefits of pets, it is okay to ask for other help if you need it. Our mental health center can create a personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs to help you better manage your symptoms and improve your overall wellbeing. Contact us today to learn more and get started.