Pet ownership improves mental health and overall well being. A pet is a built in friend, family member, wingman, or counselor without having to leave the house, have a baby, entertain guests, or otherwise interact with humans at all. A pet is a best friend for life who will truly love you unconditionally. You don’t even have to get out bed to reap the benefits pets can have on your mental health, but once you have one, you will actually want to jump out of bed every morning to start your day. Here’s why.
8 Reasons Why Owning A Pet Might Be Good For Your Mental Health
Sensory stress relief
The simple act of petting can promote a relaxation response, but you can’t just pet anything. Petting your coffee table is not going to relax you. In a study, participants were asked to pet a rabbit, turtle, toy rabbit, or toy turtle. The living breathing animal reduced stress. The turtle elicited a relaxation effect despite not being cuddly and having a hard shell! Even if participants admitted they disliked pets, the petting improved their anxiety.
The sensory connection between an animal and human is calming and will diminish anxious thoughts and feelings. No words have to be exchanged or feelings expressed as you may do with a friend or family member when feeling stressed. You can quietly stroke your pet to relax.
Warmth and touch
Pet therapy is being used in hospitals and nursing homes to raise patients’ spirits. As a nurse, I’ve seen patients’ faces light up when a therapy dog visits them. Cuddles from a lovable dog breaks up the dreariness of being sick and stuck in a hospital room.
Touch is the first language we learn as babies. A baby feels protected and loved when being held and comforted. Touch still has this healing power for adults. Embracing a pet can give you the warmth and touch we crave as humans and will ultimately brighten your day.
It’s the transmission of warmth between living things that is key. As stated previously, lying on an inanimate object like a heating pad, is not going to do the trick. The warm spiritual connection shared through living touch will elevate your mood and bring you out of your doldrums.
Isolation and loneliness are triggers for depression. Having a pet can prevent these triggers by providing companionship. Coming home every day to a pet instead of an empty house will promote a sense of belonging and ward off feelings of loneliness.
An animal companion is much different than a human companion. Your pet will always be happy to see you. Your pet will never be annoyed with you or express dissatisfaction with you about unwashed dishes.
A pet can serve as a companion for your favorite activities. Do you like to quietly read in the evenings? A pet can keep you company while you do that. Do you like Netflix marathons of your favorite shows? A pet can be your Netflix binge companion that will never cheat and watch episodes without you. She doesn’t even have to promise you; she’s not going to do it. Ever. A pet can be the best companion you have ever had, simply because she isn’t human.
Although in most cases a pet will not be able to talk to you, talking to your pet can be an outlet to work out your problems. The best part is that your pet is an awesome listener. She won’t interrupt you with advice or shrug of your woes. She will be there to listen.
Ok. To be fair, you won’t actually know if she’s listening, but she will look like she is. Even if your pet is swimming around in her fishbowl, talking out your problems with her gives you the ability to voice your pros, cons, and diffuse any anger, sadness, or anxiety about the issue just by talking about it and letting it out. When you are done venting, your pet will never judge you. To be fair again, she may judge you, but she will never be able to voice that judgment.
A pet can serve as a welcomed distraction. Playing with your pet can quiet down your mind’s chatter and force you to focus on right now. Interaction with your pet allows you to be in the moment. If your cat needs to be fed, there are many steps to consider to reach that simple end goal.
- Going to the store.
- Buying the food.
- Bringing the food back.
- Serving the food to your cat.
All these actions involve accomplishing big tasks made up of smaller tasks. While you are achieving each small step, your feelings of sadness or anxiety take a backseat. The first step of going to the store takes several steps.
- Getting dressed.
- Finding some form of transportation to get to store.
- Choosing the right food for your pet.
- Purchasing the food.
- Finding some form of transportation to get back home.
Each one of those tasks is made up of even smaller tasks. In reality, the first step of going to the store is made up of many mini tasks and your mind will focus on achieving each mini task. You will be distracted from your feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, or stress because you have an important goal ahead of you, feeding and caring for your pet. These important caretaking goals will give you a sense of purpose and accomplishing them is rewarding when you see how grateful your pet is.
The activity of taking care of someone or something else gives a person a sense of accomplishment and pride. If a person is prone to lying in bed all day, a pet can initiate a change in that behavior. A dog, for example, needs to be walked for exercise and waste elimination. Your motivation for walking your dog would be to give your dog exercise and to prevent any accidents on the carpet.
Once you are outside with your dog, you will see how happy this makes him. In turn, his happiness will be infectious and you will be happy to see him happy. This positive reinforcement will motivate you to keep caring for you dog and taking him for walks. Your motivation will shift from lying around being sad, bored, or hopeless to ensuring your dog is happy and healthy.
Your pet can serve as your every day wingman or wingwoman. When you are out walking your dog, maybe you do so at a dog park where you can meet other dog owners. If you are not great at striking up conversations, you will already have something in common with whoever you meet, dogs!
Actually, dogs are an instant topic of conversation in any situation: walking down the street, sitting in a park, or strolling around a farmer’s market. There are so many opportunities to meet other humans while having your pet there to support you.
Imagine sitting at a coffee shop outside with your dog having a latte. Someone sits nears you. Your dog wags his tail at this person and initiates eye contact. Boom. Your pet did the hard steps for you. Possibly the person will ask you what kind of dog he is or maybe you will chuckle and say how much your dog loves strangers. See how easy that was?
Unexpected Warm Fuzzies
Having a pet in your life can be rewarding in an infinite number of ways. Our family cat, Merlin, as a way to show his love and devotion to the family, would hunt various creatures and leave them on the doorstep for us to find. That may seem gross to some of you, but this was his way of expressing his gratitude and love. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Your pet may also express love in other ways you wouldn’t have ever imagined. Maybe your dog will bring your slippers to you every morning. Maybe your bird will chirp a certain tune when you get home. Your turtle may give you a solid head nod when you feed her. Your pet may surprise you with how she expresses her love for you. These actions will inspire you to have a better outlook on life if you are down and serve as a pacifier of anxious thoughts if you are stressed. There is no other love like one between a human and her dear pet. You will get the warm fuzzies and they will spread to other parts of your life.