How a Pet Can Help You Master Mindfulness

An animal companion can definitely improve your state of chill and even help enhance your well-being.

Just look at those bright eyes and that perky tail as you throw a ball for your pooch in the park. Or listen to the hum of your cat’s purr as you stroke her fur. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, pets are all in with you and the moment as it unfolds.

If we pay attention, our pets can teach us a thing or two about being more mindful, says Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, chief veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital in Kleinburg, Ont., and medical adviser for Rover.com, a dog care company that provides walking and boarding services across Canada. “Pets have this magical quality,” says Dr. Greenstein. “They remind us to stop and get back to the simple pleasures of life.”

Care connections

Dog people tend to be people people, too. According to a 2015 study published in the journal PLOS One, pet owners were found to be significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighbourhoods compared to those without animal companions. There’s no doubt that some of these connections are simply casual nods in passing, as pet parents regularly cross paths during their early-morning or after-dinner dog walks, but researchers suggest that associations go much deeper in some cases. The same study found that about 40 percent of dog owners actually reported receiving social support from the friend and acquaintance networks they made through their furry pals.

Meditative state of mind

Studies have proven that just a few minutes of aquarium watching can nix anxiety and soothe stress (no wonder dentist offices always have fish tanks!). Between the calming effect of watching underwater creatures float back and forth and the relaxing sounds of running water flowing through the tank, having little Nemo nearby can get you to a place of om as quickly as a meditation session. Plus, watching fish has also been shown to lower blood pressure.

There’s something irresistibly relaxing and almost meditative about petting a furry friend, too. Researchers from the University 
of Missouri-Columbia found that petting a dog creates a cascade of feel-good hormones, including serotonin and oxytocin, while also lowering cortisol, the stress hormone. A study published in Science even showed that you get a hit of feel-good hormones just by looking into your furry friend’s eyes. As we all know, a few quiet moments cuddling with your fluffy friend can do wonders for your state of mind. (Related: Here are some other reasons why pets are good for mental health.)

Gift of presence

“When you see life through the eyes of a puppy or kitten, they have very different requirements than we do to be happy and find contentment,” says Dr. Greenstein. Spend a few minutes watching a dog chase its tail, a cat climb in a discarded box or a hamster run happily on its wheel and the simple pleasures of life quickly zoom into focus. “They can make something out of nothing — and it reminds us that we can do the same,” she says. After all, being present and enjoying what’s happening in the moment is exactly what mindfulness is all about.

Next, learn how mindfulness can help improve athletic performance.

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada