How pets help your mental health

How pets help your mental health

It is National Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK right now, so this week we thought we’d take a moment to look at all the ways in which our pets can help us to stay happy and healthy during these challenging times. Many of us have been spending more time with our pets than ever before and forming close bonds. Some have been finding activities to do together like walking, playing, baking or creating obstacle courses in our gardens. The comfort and companionship that we get from our pets is a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety and motivate us to be more positive and keep going whatever life throws at us. 

The benefits of owning a cat

A few years ago the Mental Health Foundation conducted a study with Cats Protection to examining the benefits of owning a cat. They surveyed 600 people – some of whom owned cats and some who did not - where 50% of the respondents described themselves as having some kind of mental health problem.

The study discovered that 87% of cat owners felt that their cat had a positive impact on their wellbeing and 76% said that owning a cat helped them to cope much better with everyday life. They also reported that having a cat nearby or being able to stroke the cat was calming and helpful.

Best friends photo by Preillumination SeTh on UnsplashBest friends photo by Preillumination SeTh on Unsplash

How dogs improve your wellbeing

Likewise, owning a dog can also improve your wellbeing. Most dogs are incredibly loving and loyal and recent research has shown that owning a dog can also improve your cardiovascular health, decrease your blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.

Happy dog owner photo by Samuel Girven on UnsplashHappy dog owner photo by Samuel Girven on Unsplash

If you are feeling lonely

If you are lonely, pets make great companions. You can talk to them and interact with them and they generally appear to be listening and interested in what you have to say. They can also help to motivate you to get out and exercise and stick to a routine as they need regular feeding, grooming and attention.

If you are walking a dog every day it can also help you to feel socially connected and less lonely or withdrawn. Dogs give you some common ground to discuss with other dog owners and they also help you feel more protected and secure, both at home or on walks.

Dog walking photo by Beth Thompson on UnsplashDog walking photo by Beth Thompson on Unsplash

If you are feeling depressed

Dogs in particular can be great motivators. They will encourage you to get outside and take some exercise even when you don’t feel like it by bringing you their lead or looking longingly at the door. Taking exercise with your pet can really help boost you endorphin levels and improve your sense of wellbeing.

Many pets appear to empathise and will listen or come and sit with you if you are having a bad day. Playing with your pets or stroking them can also relax and calm your mind and make you feel valued and needed, providing you with a sense of purpose. If you are depressed you may be prone to negative thoughts, animals give something to focus on instead of those thoughts. When a pet pays attention to you, they're giving you unconditional love and acceptance. They also demonstrate mindfulness by rolling around or gazing into space - being in the moment, rather than worrying about the past or the future. 

Kitten photo by Japheth Mast on UnsplashKitten photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

If you have ADHD 

If you have ADHD you can also benefit from keeping a pet. Children with ADHD can use excess energy engaging with pets, walking, running around or playing with pet toys and the fresh air and improved circulation they get from this kind of exercise will increase their ability to concentrate. Pets are also good listeners and pay lots of attention, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.

Pets have also been shown to have beneficial effects for those suffering from many other conditions including Alzheimer’s and Autism and also as emotional support animals for people suffering from anxiety or other emotional issues.

Cat companion photo by Ga on UnsplashCat companion photo by Ga on Unsplash

Choosing a pet

If you’re choosing a pet, make sure you do some thorough research into the type or breed. If you’re depressed you might want something that has low energy and not too demanding or you could end up feeling overwhelmed or guilty. Also be wary if you are looking online as there has been a recent surge in fake pet listings where people hand over the money and get ripped off. Consider rehoming a rescue animal from a reputable charity - or if you’re buying a pedigree pet make sure you see the pet first - preferably with their mother or both parents - before you hand over any money. 

You don’t have to get a cat or a dog. A goldfish, rabbit, guinea pig or mouse can all help motivate or comfort you and give you a reason for getting up in the morning too, you have to go with what works best for you. 

Have your pets been helping you to stay calm or healthy this week? Let us know in the comments section below.

Main Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

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