10 Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet
Bringing a pet home for the first time can be one of the happiest days of your life! And why wouldn’t it be? Their cuteness is not the only thing that puts a smile on your face but there are many other mental health benefits of owning a pet.
Between 2019 and 2020, sixty-seven per cent of American households own a pet, and for good reason.
It doesn’t take a genius to know what a pet is. But according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a pet is a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility.
What could be more pleasurable than companionship, cuddles and unconditional love? I don’t know about you but I’d pick a pet any day!
Why I Love Pets
Growing up, we’ve never been without a dog. So when I moved out of home, it felt so strange not having a dog.
Living in an apartment can be so lonely because a lot of the time, you’re not allowed to have pets so it’s not bothersome to the neighbours.
I lived alone for many years and in 2015, I suffered a panic attack that landed me in the emergency department. I barely slept and ate for three weeks and being at home alone was a very anxious time for me. Imagine going home to a space that no longer felt safe?
I saw a couple of psychologists to help me deal with my anxiety and depression but we didn’t really click, as well-intentioned as they were.
The third psychologist I saw was different though. She had a therapy dog called, Hazel. At my first appointment, Hazel smiled at me (she was trained to smile and cuddle). I burst to tears of joy before I even sat down, and I never looked back.
Fast forward to today, my husband and I now own a chocolate Labrador called Molly. Especially with everything that’s been happening recently, she has been the source of positivity in our lives.
Reasons Why Owning A Pet Is Good for Your Mental Health
There are many mental health benefits of owning a pet. Whether you own a cat, a dog, a bird or something else, they’re always bound to enrich our lives in spades.
Here are the top psychological benefits of pet ownership:
1. They help you cultivate compassion and empathy
Pets rely on their owners’ kindness for their very survival. They also help you tap into your inner compassion especially when they are not well. You help nurse them back to recovery and do whatever you can to make sure they feel better.
2. They help improve your patience
Many people might argue that raising a pet could be similar to raising a child. You feed them, clean up after them, teach them independence and your world will revolve around them. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
Pets also cannot express themselves through speaking (unless you have a parrot!) so you really have to learn how they communicate from the way they move, the look in their eyes and the sounds that they make. You have to study them as you raise them, and that takes a great deal of patience.
3. They help cultivate a sense of responsibility
One of the mental health benefits of owning a pet is it gives you a sense of purpose and responsibility. A pet will draw you out of your own bubble and will help you feel needed. Essentially, a pet will help you focus on something else other than yourself.
4. They help you establish habits
Another reason why owning a pet is good for your mental health, is they help you establish routines and habits. Pets are highly routined creatures and they depend on you to be the same. They need to eat around the same time, exercise around the same time, relieve themselves around the same time and get check-ups around the same time.
This sets up discipline on your part, which is one of the advantages of being a pet owner.
5. They provide companionship
One of the best mental health benefits of owning a pet is companionship. They give us opportunity for social interaction and a sense of security, especially if you live at home alone. Many pets, especially dogs, are amazing sentries, alerting you if someone’s at the door.
6. They reduce feelings of loneliness
How could you feel lonely cuddled up to your pet? In my case, our chocolate Labrador, Molly, always cheers me up every time my husband travels interstate for work. Pets, particularly dogs, are like shadows who give you lots of affection, kisses and cuddles.
7. They help reduce anxiety and depression
If you’re a naturally anxious person like me, having pets is a sure-fire way to help you feel at ease. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, positive human-animal interaction can significantly increase oxytocin levels in the brain, consequently reducing anxiety and depression, and improving your mood.
8. They help keep you fit
If you’re lucky enough to have a dog like we do, you’d know what it’s like to be kept on your toes (physically!). One of the advantages of being a dog owner is you will be compelled to exercise, because an exercised dog is a happy dog. And if your dog is happy, you’re happy, right? If dogs don’t get enough exercise, they could get anxious or even be destructive.
9. They help you feel happier and more optimistic
It’s very difficult to look at your pet and not smile. They bring so much happiness in unspoken ways. If you look back at my experience, the therapy dog at my counselling session was enough to cut through my distress and make me well up from joy.
10. They give you unconditional love
Last but not the least, and perhaps the best psychological benefit of being a pet owner is feeling loved unconditionally. There’s no better feeling than knowing that you will never be judged by your pet. Pets are loving and loyal companions and they will always make you feel it, whether by giving you cuddles or by protecting you. They’re practically like family members, they are your tribe.
As you can see, there are many mental health benefits of owning a pet. Having pets may be challenging at times but the advantages are worth it. They will give you so much love, make you feel secure and even help keep your anxiety at bay. Plus, they’ll keep you fit! What’s not to love?
Corinne Rootsey is a personal finance and personal development blogger from Australia. When she’s not blogging, she loves reading, playing tennis and speaking in cute voices with their chocolate Labrador. You can follow her journey at my jEARNey.