top of page

The Impact of Pet Ownership on Mental Health and Wellbeing


A small fluffy dog laying down on a wooden floor.

In an era where mental health awareness is more important than ever, the role of pets in our lives takes on a new level of significance. The bond between humans and animals has long been celebrated for its companionship and joy, but recent studies have begun to shed light on the profound impact pet ownership can have on mental health and wellbeing.


This article delves into how pets and mental health are deeply connected, highlighting the benefits of considering pets for mental health improvement.


The Psychological Benefits of Pets

Emotional Support and Unconditional Love

Pets offer unconditional love and unwavering support. For many, the presence of a pet at home can be a source of comfort and emotional stability, helping to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. The non-judgmental companionship that pets provide creates a sense of security and belonging that is vital for mental health.


Stress Reduction

Engaging with pets has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, while simultaneously increasing the production of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical in the brain. Activities like petting a dog or cat can lower heart rate and bring about a sense of calm, making pets excellent companions for stress relief.¹


Improved Routine and Physical Activity

Owning a pet, especially a dog, encourages regular exercise through walks and playtime. This physical activity not only benefits physical health but also contributes to mental wellbeing by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, the routine care pets require can provide structure and purpose to an owner's day.


Pets and Mental Health: A Closer Look

Combating Loneliness

In the UK, where many individuals live alone or in high-stress environments, pets can play a crucial role in reducing the sense of isolation. A pet’s presence can also facilitate social interactions, such as conversations with other pet owners during walks, thereby enhancing one's social life.


Enhancing Mental Resilience

For those facing mental health challenges, pets can offer a sense of resilience. They provide a distraction from distressing thoughts, offer comfort during tough times, and give their owners a reason to focus on the present.


Therapeutic Benefits for Various Conditions 

Research has shown that pets can be particularly beneficial for individuals with specific mental health conditions, such as PTSD, ADHD, and autism. Pets can help to reduce episodes of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.


As an example, Dogs2Vets is a not-for-profit organisation based in Kentucky, USA, who partner (trained) rescue dogs with military veterans. Veterans experience significant decreases in stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms. They also experience less isolation and self-judgement and significant improvements in self-compassion.²


Commonly Asked Questions

Q: Can any pet contribute to improved mental health?

A: Yes, while dogs and cats are the most common pets associated with mental health benefits, other pets like birds, rabbits, and even fish can also contribute to emotional wellbeing through companionship and the calming effects of their care.


Q: How do I know if a pet is right for my lifestyle?

A: Consider your living situation, schedule, and ability to provide for a pet's needs. While pets offer many mental health benefits, they also require time, financial commitment, and long-term care.


Q: Are there options for those who cannot own pets?

A: Yes, volunteering at animal shelters, pet sitting, or visiting friends and family with pets can also provide opportunities to interact with animals and experience similar mental health benefits.


Q: What if I'm allergic but still want the benefits of pet ownership?

A: There are hypoallergenic pet options, but you can also consider non-animal ways to boost mental health, such as spending time in nature or practising mindfulness and meditation. If you have space, consider adding a bird feeder to your garden or window, or finding other ways to assist local wildlife. Research undertaken in 2021 showed that feelings of love, belonging, positive feelings, fulfilment and the gaining of perspective, were linked with the human–animal experience.³


The Enduring Bond Between Pets and Wellbeing

The impact of pets on mental health and wellbeing is profound and multifaceted. Whether through providing emotional support, reducing stress, or encouraging physical activity, pets have a unique ability to enhance our lives in numerous ways. 


For those considering pets for mental health, it's clear that the companionship and joy animals bring can play a significant role in improving both psychological and emotional wellbeing. In recognising the powerful connection between pets and mental health, we find yet another reason to appreciate our furry, feathered, and finned friends.




References

  1. Linda Handlin, Eva Hydbring-Sandberg, Anne Nilsson, Mikael Ejdebäck, Anna Jansson & Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg (2011) Short-Term Interaction between Dogs and Their Owners: Effects on Oxytocin, Cortisol, Insulin and Heart Rate—An Exploratory Study, Anthrozoös, 24:3, 301-315, DOI: 10.2752/175303711X13045914865385

  2. Bergen-Cico D, Smith Y, Wolford K, Gooley C, Hannon K, Woodruff R, Spicer M, Gump B. Dog Ownership and Training Reduces Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Increases Self-Compassion Among Veterans: Results of a Longitudinal Control Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Dec;24(12):1166-1175. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0179. Epub 2018 Sep 25. PMID: 30256652.

  3. Yerbury RM, Lukey SJ. Human-Animal Interactions: Expressions of Wellbeing through a "Nature Language". Animals (Basel). 2021 Mar 29;11(4):950. doi: 10.3390/ani11040950. PMID: 33805308; PMCID: PMC8067212.


Comments


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
Recent Posts
Archive
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • Facebook Basic Square
bottom of page