By Rachel Welch
What is sweeter than the moment when you are feeling sad, and your pet comes to comfort you? Almost as if they know you're feeling blue, they will approach you and bring the comfort that you need. There is something profoundly sweet and endearing about the love our pets show us on a daily basis, and especially when we are sad. . What's amazing is that our sweet pets may actually have the potential to help us with mental health issues. Pets are wonderful in so many ways, and they may hold the key to better mental health! Can pets ease our loneliness and depression?
How Do Pets Impact Our Mental Health?
Pets of all kinds bring joy to the lives of their owners. Dogs, cats, fish, birds, and reptiles are all creatures that can quickly become beloved members of the family. While most pet owners will testify to the joy that their animals bring, it seems that science supports this! Pets support our mental health in many ways.
Pets provide valuable companionship to their owners, which in turn can help to relieve loneliness and depression. During COVID-19's quarantine, there was a substantial rise in pet adoptions. Many animal shelters across the country reported numbers of pet adoptions that transcended numbers of many years past (1). This could be explained by the isolation that quarantine required, and the need that it left us with. The act of petting animals can release serotonin and dopamine, two very happy chemicals for our brain (2). These chemicals hit us with happiness in moments like a loving embrace or cuddle with a loved one. As quarantine made human contact nearly impossible, it's no surprise that many people sought out this comfort by adopting pets!
Additionally, the moment of an owner and pet looking into each others' eyes has been proven to be very powerful. In these moments, both our pets' brains and our brains release oxytocin. Oxytocin is the "love hormone" that creates a unique bond between mother and child after birth, for instance. This fact gives credibility to "dog moms and dads" everywhere! The bond between fur child and owner is quite real and scientifically proven (2).
Pets and Depression
In addition to helping our brains with happy hormones, our pets have the potential to help us in other ways. They can lessen depression in natural ways, such as with exercise, maintaining routines, and socialization.
People suffering from depression may have difficulty maintaining their routines. This often makes it challenging to maintain exercise and other healthy habits. Pets can help with this by having exercise needs of their own! Dogs in particular require walks outside on a regular basis. Dogs can often help their owners abide by the same healthy habits, simply by being themselves!
While cats or fish may not directly help with exercise goals, they can help their owners maintain routines. Fish owners have to feed their animals at a normal time and clean the tank. Remembering to provide regular medicine and vet visits is another level of accountability that is necessary. This level of accountability to another creature can be helpful for individuals with depression. Taking care of a beloved pet is sometimes the perfect amount of motivation to help someone work through a tough day. Even if it's just getting out of bed for a moment, pets can help their owners work through their depression.
Pets and Loneliness
Many people became familiar with loneliness during the pandemic, and realized the true benefit that pets offer. In addition to providing companionship at home, dogs also encourage their owners to get outside of the house. While going for a walk with their dog, some owners might socialize with other dog owners along the way.
Additionally, pet therapy is a common treatment for many goals. Animal-assisted therapy is implemented in various settings, which serves as further evidence that animals have many therapeutic benefits. Animal-assisted therapy has been widely implemented for years and continues to grow in popularity as research confirms its benefits. Doctors utilize animal-assisted therapy to help with many things including anxiety, PTSD, and companionship for those in long-term care facilities (3).
Pets: Mental Health Helpers
Pets bring joy to the lives of owners and families everywhere. They inspire loving and happy hormones, provide companionship, help with depression, and ease loneliness. For this, pets deserve the title of Mental Health Helpers.
So, pet parents everywhere, revel in your relationship with your fur child! Wear the title of pet parent with pride and joy and know that your cherished relationship is healthy for you! Love on your furry friends, and care for your aquatic and feathered friends. Look into their eyes to get a dose of love and enjoy a dose of support for your mental health.