If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve likely experienced firsthand the endless entertainment, love, and joy animals bring into their owners’ lives. It may not come as a surprise, but pet ownership has been proven to improve mental health. Studies show that caring for a dog, cat, or other pet has wonderful impacts on the owners’ mental (as well as physical) health. Since National Love Your Pet Day was on February 20th, I’m using this week’s blog to explore some of the different health benefits pet ownership offers.
7 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health
1. They Lessen Loneliness
The feeling of isolation often accompanies and compounds many types of mental health disorders. When we feel isolated, we feel cut off from others and – perhaps even worse – any support they could provide. Having a pet is a great way to ensure that you will never be alone. Whether you want someone to talk to or just want to snuggle, your pet will always be there for you.
2. They Help You Connect With Other People
Not only can pets help combat loneliness by serving as constant companions in your home – they can also help you break out of your comfort zone and meet new people when you are out and about. Pets are excellent ice-breakers. Even if you don’t want to meet other people in person yet, you can look into Facebook groups or other online networks designated specifically for pet owners.
3. They Make You Smile
|My fur-baby, Sassy|
There’s a reason funny cat and dog videos go viral on the internet. When your pet does something silly, your natural response will be to smile – often before you have a chance to think about it. The act of smiling helps release dopamine and serotonin, which are the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and calmness.
4. They Motivate You To Get Active
As I have said before, exercise offers numerous mental health benefits by releasing mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. Since dogs are naturally active creatures and need to be walked or run regularly, having a dog can be a great way to motivate you to become more active in your own life.
5. They Motivate You To Get Outside
Dogs often have a lot of energy, and most houses and apartments don’t have room for dogs to burn off all that energy inside. By motivating you to become more active, dogs also motivate you to get outside. Being outside in the sunshine and breathing fresh air can have a powerful effect on your mental health. Spending time in the sun also gives you a little boost of Vitamin D, which can improve your physical health as well.
6. They Relieve Stress
Life can be hard sometimes. The myriad of responsibilities that face us can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to stay positive underneath all the pressure. Petting a dog or a cat is a powerful way to relieve stress. By bringing your focus to the present moment, it helps you avoid worrying about the future or stressing over past mistakes.
7. They Love You Unconditionally
Sometimes, the reminder that we are loved and needed is enough to keep us going from day to day. No matter how hard of a day you’ve had or what mood you were in when you left the house, your dog will always be thrilled to see you when you come home. Your pet doesn’t care about the score you got on your biology test or the deadline you missed at work. All she cares about is you.
These mental health benefits are fantastic, but the benefits of pet ownership don’t stop there. By reducing your stress and increasing your activity level, you can improve your physical health as well. Studies have also shown that kids raised around pets typically develop stronger immune systems and have fewer allergies than children raised in pet-free environments.
|Sassy and me|
National Love Your Pet Day
As a proud dog mom and devout animal lover myself, I can personally attest to the phenomenal benefits of sharing your home with a pet. I cannot imagine my life without my Sassy. She brings so much light and joy into my life – there’s no one else I would rather celebrate National Love Your Pet Day with!
Samantha M. Ruth, Transformational Psychologist