The Benefits Of Having A Pet: (Wo)Man’s Best Healer
Your Pet Can Help You Live A Mentally-Healthier Life
I’m a pet-lover, and I decided two years ago to rescue a Jack Russel terrier from a local animal shelter to aid in my adjustment to my home in a new country – Barbados. Two weeks into dog ownership, I posted online that “we (the dog and I) saved each other” because I had experienced firsthand how critical positive human-animal interaction and bonding was to my mental health. I was astounded by how much of a supportive presence my dog had quickly become. Back then, while I had no solid scientific explanation for it, I knew, based on my significant mood improvement, that this four-legged friend provided unconditional love and acceptance that resonated with me, deeply.
Pet ownership and animal-assisted interventions are healing powers we take for granted and often ignore, but they have the potential to greatly raise and improve our wellness levels. Pets and therapy animals have been known to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. Consider a 2016 study that explored the role of pets in the social lives of persons managing long-term mental health problems. The study found that pets provided a sense of security and routine that offered emotional and social support to their owners.
Neuroscientist Lori Marino, the Executive Director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, also found that 26 of 28 studies published between 2005 and 2011 reported positive outcomes in patients undergoing animal therapy. Their review identified studies that explored the effects of pet ownership on mental health. The review found that pets do actually help to boost their owners’ mental health. The studies also showed that pets were especially helpful to military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and anyone experiencing depression. It was also specifically highlighted that stroking a dog or cat directly improved symptoms of depression.
An article by a veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker, also confirmed the power of petting and stroking a pet. Various studies have shown that petting and stroking a pet, improve one’s blood levels of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone”, and dopamine, known widely as the “reward” hormone. A later and larger study by University of Missouri scientists also documented that petting dogs caused a spike in people’s serotonin, the neurotransmitter that most antidepressants attempt to elevate. These neurochemicals are essential to our sense of well-being.
Benefits Of Having A Pet: Tap Into The Magic Of Your Bestfriend?
- Maximize your moments with your pet. Spend extra time doing things your pet enjoys. This may include petting him or her, taking a walk in your neighborhood, or going on a car drive. This may also include snuggling with your pet-friend while you read or watch your favorite television show. No matter your activity choice, you will never regret taking time to bond with your pet friend. Why? Because bonding triggers the endorphins that help you to feel happier and more relaxed.
Research shows that persons who experience anxiety and depressive symptoms show lower blood pressure and higher mood boosters when they actively interact with pets. Consider a study by UCLA which showed patients experienced a 14% drop in their anxiety levels simply because they made the most of their moments with a therapy dog.
- Be consistent. Having a routine to bond with your pet friend helps you get through the day. I added after-work bonding sessions with my dog, every day. I dedicated twenty minutes to just engaging my dog. It is a practice I am still committed to and I have realized that I look forward to our bonding sessions, no matter how rough my day is. It also ensures that I don’t isolate myself after a long day, and guarantees that I remain in the here and now while being active outside of the comfort of the house.
- Give it time. Just as it takes time to create a bond with another human, it takes time to create a bond with an animal. That is okay. It may also take some time for you to see an improvement in your mood if you get a pet. That too is okay. Give yourself time and track your mood in your journal or using one of the many mood tracking apps available
While getting a pet, or seeking pet therapy, comes with many benefits to our mental health, it is no substitute for seeking professional medical or psychotherapy support. Rather, we can integrate bonding with our pet-friends into our own wellness plans and make it a top priority, as it rightfully should be. And, while your pet is taking care of your mental health, it is important that you take care of his/her health too. Speak to your vet about the best ways you can keep your pet friend happy and healthy.
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