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Pet Companionship and Mental Health

By: Ivy Nguyen

Many families and people own furry companions to keep them company. An estimated 68% of US households own a pet. The unconditional love of a pet can have more effects on mental health than you may think. Pets decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills. But how do we get these benefits from an animal? And which type of pet brings health benefits?

Studies have shown positive health effects from owning pets. When owners interact with animals, it has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, and lower blood pressure. Animals can also reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost mood. Overall, owning a pet will alleviate feelings of doubt, stress, and sadness that can aid your mental health and productivity. 

Pets can also influence the emotions that people feel. Different animals can have different benefits. For example, owning a dog can increase physical activity. Owning a dog influences people to take more walks and it encourages movement, which can improve mental and physical health. Owning a fish, and watching fish swim can result in a feeling of calmness.

Animals can serve as a source of comfort and support, especially therapy dogs. They are often brought into hospitals or nursing homes to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety. Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center, works with people who have cancer and terminal illnesses. She teaches them about mindfulness to help decrease stress and manage pain. Berger says that animals bring attention, intention, compassion, and awareness to the table, which are the foundations of mindfulness. 

Another example of pets improving people’s mood and performance is in an educational environment. Animals can also aid in the classroom. One study found that dogs can help children with ADHD focus their attention. Another study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with guinea pigs. Animals can become a way of building a bridge for social interactions, according to Dr. Griffin. 

Animals may help in other unexpected ways as well. A recent study showed that caring for fish helped teens with diabetes better manage their disease. Teens who cared for a pet fish were more disciplined about checking their own blood glucose levels, which is essential for maintaining their health.

Owning a pet comes with new responsibilities, and it’s important to know how to care for and feed an animal. This may add new tasks for people and can lead to some stress while taking care of an animal. However, for most people, it is worth it to take care of their companion as they make them feel happy and improve their overall wellbeing.

Overall, having a furry companion helps a lot of people deal with mental health and improve mood. This shows that pets can positively impact and enrich your life! 


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