5 Ways Your Pet Boosts Your Mental Health

In need of a mental health boost? Look no further than your furry friend.

Any pet parent will tell you that their cat, dog or even hamster is part of the family. This close bond we share with our ani­mals does wonders for us, pre­venting loneliness, soothing stress and helping us feel a little happier, day in and day out. Here are the top five ways that our pets are good for our mental health.

1. They remind us we’re not alone

There’s no doubt that pets help us feel connected throughout our daily lives, whether it’s meeting neighbours and friends on daily dog walks or just having someone to come home to at night. Accord­ing to research published last fall in the journal The Gerontologist, the companionship of a cat or dog can even reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in peo­ple who have experienced the loss of a spouse through death or divorce. “If they have pets, they are more likely to maintain their mental health, despite this sig­nificant negative event,” says Dawn Carr, an associate professor of sociology and lead researcher at Florida State University. “We hypothesize that it makes people feel more socially connected because this living thing needs them and gives them uncondi­tional love,” she says. “Taking care of a cat or dog gives people purpose in their lives.”

2. They boost feel-good hormones

Research from the University of Missouri found that just a few minutes of petting a dog or cat prompts the release of a cascade of feel-good hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. Levels of these hormones are usually low in people who suffer from depres­sion, so having a dog or cat could improve symptoms. “They get the physical touch and love that help them feel like they aren’t alone and they matter to another being,” says Carr.

3. They soothe stress

Feeling that soft fur beneath our fingers after along, taxing day can have a calming effect and lower heart rate and blood pressure. Studies have shown that therapy dogs can reduce stress in students taking exams and children under­going medical treatments.

4. They protect us from mental illness

Emerging research that examines the link between immune func­tion and psychiatric disorders suggests that lifelong dog people might have some protection from mental illness. A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine published in PLOS One found that kids who grow up with dogs have a lower risk of developing schizo­phrenia later in life. Researchers found that children who grew up with dogs from an early age were as much as 24 percent less likely to develop the disorder as adults.

5. They make us happy

Just try not to crack a smile when looking at your purring kitten, faithful Fido or colourful fish tank. A national poll of 2,000 peo­ple in the UK found that having a pet seems to boost a person’s hap­piness quotient in a number of ways. Six in 10 respondents said their cats and dogs make them laugh. The study also discovered that pet parents are more likely to volunteer, consider themselves successful and even go on a dream holiday.

Now that you’ve learned how owning a pet is good for your mental health, learn how owning a pet is also good for your physical health.

Originally Published in Best Health Canada