How Pets Benefit Your Mental Health

A cocker spaniel having fun outside in Denver CO

To many pet parents, their dog or cat is a best friend, a fur baby, a loyal companion, a member of the family, or all of the above. These special designations are a testament to how much joy and love many pets bring into the lives of their pet parents. And on top of this, did you know that pets can help improve mental health too? Having an animal companion can significantly improve one’s mental health and well-being. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute has found that the relationship between a human and an animal can be mutually beneficial and help each live a happier life. 

Whether you’re considering having a pet in your life or you’re a current pet parent looking for even more reasons to celebrate your pet, this article is for you.  

We compiled a list of ways owning a pet can benefit your mental health and how your companionship benefits them as well.

What’s in This Guide? 

Pets Alleviate Stress

Playing with and handling your pet can lower stress-related hormones within five minutes, according to studies. This time spent with pets is important for them, too, as they need regular engagement. 

In addition, pets make us smile or laugh which then triggers the release of beneficial hormones like dopamine and serotonin. These hormones help relax the nervous system, causing the alleviation of stress.

Pets Reduce Feelings of Loneliness

Having a pet can provide you with company whenever you're home. You can also bring your pet with you when you go out and spend time in pet-friendly restaurants or pet-friendly breweries. Pets provide unconditional companionship which helps reduce feelings of loneliness. 

Your company and friendship is also beneficial to your pet. Dogs and cats don't like to be solitary and require at least one companion. Giving your pet ample attention each day contributes to their well-being too.

 Close up of dog cuddling with pet parent while she reads a book

Pets Can Help Cope With Mental Health Challenges

Pets can help with depression in a number of ways. As our companions, they soothe feelings of loneliness. Our interactions with them also help release more hormones that alleviate feelings of depression. Many people are happier when they're with their pet, and having an animal companion gives pet parents a number of activities to look forward to — such as going to dog parks, attending cat conventions, or simply cuddling up next to a fur baby while watching TV or reading. 

Animals have even become a part of mental health treatment programs. For example, therapists may prescribe a therapy cat or dog to patients who suffer from various mental health challenges. 

Having a Pet Encourages Physical Activity 

Physical activity and exercise benefits our health in numerous ways. Physical activity is known to increase endorphin, dopamine, and serotonin levels which are hormones that improve one’s mood. Regular physical activity also helps in increasing energy levels in the body

Therefore, every time you take your dog for a walk, you're modeling a reward system in your brain that will release serotonin and other beneficial hormones regularly. You can also engage in more physical activities by playing with your pet. For example, playing with teaser toys with your cat helps you to get up and move around. Even cleaning up after your pet helps you to become more active by getting up and moving around.

Exercise is also great for your pet, and it's important to ensure that they get enough exercise. Playing with your pet also helps strengthen your bond, which is beneficial to both pets and pet parents.

Having a Pet Encourages Structure & Routine

Owning a pet comes with several daily responsibilities — such as feeding, cleaning and exercising with them. Performing these activities helps one build a routine and adds more structure in life. This can be beneficial for those struggling with mental health, especially during days when it’s challenging to find motivation. 

Taking care of a pet is good motivation for getting the ball rolling for the need-to-do tasks of the day. Once tasks are successfully accomplished, it creates a sense of fulfillment which then triggers the brain’s reward system. 

Structure is also helpful for your pet. Having a feeding time, for example, can help manage a healthy weight. The routine you create for your pet can also influence healthy eating and cleaning habits for yourself.

A pet parent walking a dog as part of her daily routine

Pets Can Boost Confidence

According to the American Psychological Association, pets can increase self-esteem. Animal companions can provide unconditional love which helps the pet parent maintain a positive self image. Pet owners also reported to the American Psychological Association that their pet helps them overcome a fear of rejection. 

Having a Pet Helps With Meeting Like-Minded People

Having a pet creates common ground with other people who also have a pet. This shared interest can help develop friendships and other meaningful relationships. Your pet may also help you meet new, like-minded people as you attend pet-centered events or go to pet-friendly destinations. 

As an example, there are festivals that pet owners can attend to find cool products for their pet and learn about how to take care of their pet. If you have a dog, you may meet people at dog parks. If you have a cat, you may meet other cat parents in cat cafes.

Many animals like to socialize too, so it can be beneficial to take them out to meet other people and pets. Always use caution when introducing your pet to new people, places, and other animals, and give them time to adjust.

Final Thoughts on How Pets Benefit Mental Health 

To summarize this article, our furry friends benefit our mental health and well-being in a variety of ways. As pet parents, we can take steps to make sure these valuable furry companions are also at their best health. Preventive care is the number one investment you can make to have as many happy years as possible with your furry friend. 

If you'd like to learn more about best practices in preventive care and pet parenting, check out Sploot's Pet Parent Resouce Center!

Sploot Veterinary Care is a trusted primary and urgent care veterinary clinic that offers a wide range of services for preventive care, urgent care, dental care, and more. Our doors are open 365 days a year for extended hours. Take the first step to great veterinary care — schedule an appointment today!

Bolonka Timmi by Maya Dumat is licensed with CC BY 2.0