How pets can help your mental health


Many of us are fortunate enough to have a pet in our lives. We enjoy their companionship but may not be fully aware of the mental and physical health benefits they bring. I have long had an animal companion at my office. For many years, it was my dog. She has since passed away, but recently, I brought a kitten, Ziggy, into my practice. In both cases, patients have enjoyed these animals’ calming presence. Let’s talk a bit about how a pet can improve your well-being.

1. Pets can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate and you need not even be petting them. Watching fish swim in a tank, listening to birds, playing with your dog or enjoying your cat’s antics can all have the same effect. If you have just had to deal with a stressful situation, or are about to, spending some time with your pet can better equip you to cope. Physicians have also found that those with pets typically recover faster from illness, both because of their pets’ calming effect, and because their pet needs them.

2. Pets promote touching. Doctors agree that there is healing power in touch. This is one of the reasons why a massage can be so beneficial. However, stroking a cat, dog, rabbit or any pet can provide some of the same benefits. It not only lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, it also decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, while boosting levels of serotonin and dopamine, both considered “feel good” brain chemicals. A cat’s purr is also considered to be one of the most relaxing and comforting sounds, which adds to the soothing effect.

3. Pets can change our mood. If you are feeling down, anxious, angry or otherwise distressed, coming home to a tail-wagging dog or a kitty weaving affectionately around your feet can quickly improve your mood. Almost imperceptibly, those negative feelings are diminished and put into perspective. As you tend to your pet’s needs — petting, feeding, providing playtime or going for a walk, you are letting your system calm down and restore itself. This allows you to then deal with whatever issues there are in a healthier and stronger frame of mind.

In fact, pet owners are more apt to indulge in fun time than non-pet owners. A pet owner doesn’t mind letting loose and acting silly wrestling with their dog or running around dragging a cat toy behind them as their kitty gives chase. This is because they enjoy pleasing their pet, yet indulging in this kind of play is a wonderful stress release.

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