As we meet new people, we have many questions that may come up, whether it be what someone does for work, inquiries about their family, or where they were born. When we think about family, this can also include our pets. For many of us, our animals are truly part of our family.
Our pets provide us with friendship, love, and joy but can also greatly benefit our mental health.
A study from the American Psychiatric Association found that 86% of pet owners believed their pets positively affect their mental health, and 69% believed their pets helped reduce stress and anxiety (American Psychiatric Association, 2023).
In particular, having a pet can allow someone a safe space to feel their feelings and connect with another being without the fear of judgment. Animals can be unconditional in their love and affection, which can be incredibly comforting. In fact, chemically, animals allow us to feel better and more at ease. According to an article from Husson University, the body releases serotonin oxytocin, prolactin, and serotonin when in the presence of an animal.
Additionally, pets can help push us to build a routine, thus creating a sense of security and dependability. Since animals are commonly routine-oriented, it is common for pet owners to create a routine for their animals that consist of things like specific times for feeding. Northwestern Medicine states, “An effective routine can help reduce stress, which can lead to better mental health, more time to relax, and less anxiety” (Northwestern Medicine, 2022).
For reasons such as these, many people also benefit from having service animals such as service dogs and emotional support animals.
Although much alike, service animals and emotional support animals are different. Service animals are trained to help people with various types of disabilities, whereas emotional support animals are not trained but offer comfort to their owners through companionship.
One of the more documented cases of service dogs and their benefits can be shown through research on service dogs and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A recent study looking at the benefit of animal therapy for veterans with PTSD found that the presence of service dogs related to a decrease in depression and social isolation and an increase in companionship and resilience (Feldman, 2018).
Specifically, PTSD service dogs are trained to help veterans in their day-to-day life and support them in their recovery.
The American Psychiatric Association identifies some of the things service dogs are trained to do, including but not limited to: nudging to alert or intervene in anxiety-inducing situations, positioning themselves in front of or behind their handler to cover or block them, waking their handler up from a distressing nightmare, and more.
As someone who has struggled with mental health from a young age, animals have always been crucial to my wellness and well-being. I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder at seven years old, and my pets could comfort me when I felt alone in my thoughts and experiences. After years of learning more about myself and attending therapy, I still feel that my pets are one of the most valuable pieces of my life, and I feel eternally grateful for them (and all animals).
The relationship with our pets is different for each of us, but there is no doubt that they can serve as incredible life companions and some of the best support systems.
American Psychiatric Association. (2022, August 16). Service Dogs Can Be Invaluable in Helping People with PTSD. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/service-dogs-helping-people-with-ptsd
American Psychiatric Association. (2023, March 3). Americans Note Overwhelming Positive Mental Health Impact of Their Pets in New Poll; Dogs and Cats Equally Beneficial. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/news-releases/positive-mental-health-impact-of-pets
Feldman, S. (2018, May 26). How Science Supports Pets for Improving Your Mental Health. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/blog/how-science-supports-pets-improving-your-mental-health
Human Animal Bond Research Institute. (2020, May 1). Shareable Infographic: Top 5 Mental Health Benefits Of Pets. Human Animal Bond Research Institute. https://habri.org/blog/mental-health-month-shareable-infographic-on-the-mental-health-benefits-of-pets/
Husson University. (2022, July 20). The Healing Power of Animals: Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy. Husson University. https://www.husson.edu/online/blog/2022/07/benefits-of-animal-assisted-therapy#:~:text=1.-,Mental%20Health,release%20serotonin%2C%20prolactin%20and%20oxytocin.
Northwestern Medicine. (December, 2022). Health Benefits of Having a Routine. Northwestern Medicine.