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How Pets Can Improve Mental Health

Written by: Emme Duclos

Pets are already well known for being primary sources of joy in many people’s households, but how specifically do pets make us happier? According to the News in Health (NIH) organization, who collabed with the Mars Corporation’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition for over 10 years, they have taken on a variety of studies observing interactions between pets and pet owners and, as a result, have noticed many mental health benefits from owning a pet. 

For starters, pets are great for decreasing stress and anxiety levels. Simply being around pets can reduce a person’s levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone maintaining one’s stress levels) and lower their blood pressure. Not only does this allow the person to feel calmer and happier, but even provides physical health benefits, as having too much cortisol can result in a variety of health problems, including fatigue, intestinal issues or even more major problems such as osteoporosis (bone thinning). Participating in physical activities with pets, such as dog walking, is especially helpful for decreasing cortisol levels. 

Therapy and service pets, in particular, have many different ways of promoting mental health wellness in the people they help. For example, many dogs are specifically trained to reduce the stress and anxiety levels of people who are in need of it, such as hospital patients or the elderly staying in retirement homes who are unable to be connected with the rest of their families. Staying in either of these physical settings for long periods of time are prone to invoking feelings of loneliness from these individuals, but the presence of service and therapy dogs can keep them company, providing them a sense of comfort and overall less stress and worrying. Another example are service dogs who aid with students having trouble focusing on their classwork. Especially for students with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, focusing on schoolwork in and outside of the classroom can present itself as difficult, causing increased levels of anxiety in those who feel challenged by trying to do so. A study that involved enrolling two groups of children with ADHD into therapy sessions, one group with reading assistance from real therapy dogs and the other with only puppet versions of the dogs, showed that the group who had real dogs demonstrated better cooperation and fewer behavioral issues. By being able to cooperate and focus better due to the assistance of the therapy dogs, the anxiety levels of the participants were capable of being decreased over time. 

“Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” says Dr. Ann Berger, who works as a physician and researcher for NIH. Since dogs, and other pets, are naturally good at giving attention to people they make very good companions for those in need of one, overall being very good for making people feel happy and comfortable in any given situation.

Pet ownership can also prevent people from experiencing depression or other mood disorders by promoting a healthy amount of productivity, considering caring for any type of pet comes with a lot of responsibility. Having an animal to love and take care of involves a lot of commitment, such as feeding them, exercising them, and giving them any other necessary attention, which gives the pet owner many chances to be productive throughout the day. Excessive inactivity or unproductivity on a regular basis generally lead to individuals experiencing low levels of energy, which can then lead to depression or other forms of major stress. Therefore, productivity from caring after a pet is an effective way to prevent these symptoms from occurring. 

Overall, there are many benefits that come from owning a pet, especially for one’s mental health. While owning a pet may not be an available option for everyone, simply being around animals in general, whether they are pets or not, is an easy way to boost your mood and make your day at least a little bit better. Because of this, forming connections with animals can surely be seen as a fundamental method of achieving a stronger sense of happiness. 


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