A Look at How Pets Change Your Life and Whether You’re Ready to Be a Pet Parent

Your dogs and cats can bring a smile to your face, but did you know that pet ownership has been proven to help people suffering from clinical depression and many other mental health benefits?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, animal-assisted therapy is recognized as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders. A pet requires their owner to be active and can help them feel less isolated from society. A pet also remains a trusted companion, even when their owner withdraws from friends and family. You don’t need an emotional support animal or a therapy dog to reap the many benefits of pet ownership.

We’ve rounded up some mental health benefits of pet ownership and some considerations about whether having a cat or dog is right for you and shared them below.

Explore the mental health benefits of pet ownership.

Mental Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Much research has gone into this topic, and the overwhelming majority of these studies point to the fact that dog and cat ownership boosts our morale, helps with stress, reduces loneliness, and more.

The mental health benefits of pet ownership are:

  1. Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  2. Playing with your pet can elevate serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine levels, which calm and relax. It has also been shown that interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone).
  3. Pets fulfill the basic human need for touch and remain a trusted companion during periods of isolation (which is why so many people got pets during the pandemic).
  4. Pet ownership provides a sense of social connection.
  5. Pets give their owners a sense of purpose, as you have another live being (or two…or three!) to care for outside of yourself.
  6. Studies have shown that interacting with pets can help kids on the autism spectrum with social skills.
  7. Pet ownership increases your physical activity, which has been proven to have profound mental health benefits.
  8. Many of us thrive with routine, and pet ownership provides a structure to your day.
  9. Pets have been shown to help increase productivity—studies have shown that when a dog joins a virtual meeting, group members rank teammates higher on team cohesion, camaraderie, and trust!
  10. Pets may help people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by providing that sense of structure and responsibility and a means to release that energy through walking or running with said pets.

New studies of pets and their positive effects are being done all the time. Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, has been studying pets and mindfulness. She has found mindfulness to help decrease stress and manage pain in cancer patients.

“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Berger says. “All of those are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do it innately.”

Pets and Their Benefits to Those With PTSD

Pet companionship is known to lower the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A recent HABRI-funded study found that veterans living with PTSD exhibited better mental health and well-being if they had a service dog, including:

  • Lower overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress
  • Lower levels of depression
  • Higher levels of life satisfaction
  • Higher overall psychological well-being
  • Lower levels of social isolation and greater ability to participate in social activities
  • Higher levels of resilience
  • Higher levels of companionship

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, please call the national hotline for suicide prevention at 800-273-8255.

Are You Ready for a Pet?

While we are certainly advocating that pets come with many health benefits, they can actually make things worse if you’re not ready for the responsibility. As veterinarians, we can tell you pets are a lot of work! Are they worth it? We’d say yes, but there are certain times in a person’s life when a pet might not be the best idea.

Things to consider before getting a pet are:

  • How much space do you have?
  • Will your dog have easy access to getting outside for exercise and bathroom breaks?
  • Are pets allowed (if you’re a renter)?
  • How much time do you have to dedicate to them, including physical and mental stimulation?
  • Do you have enough money to provide for their pet food, pet supplies, and veterinary bills?
  • Do you have a routine (i.e., a job and other responsibilities) that allows for pet care?
  • Are you and other family members ready for a pet? Everyone should pitch in!
  • Are you settled, and can you provide a calm environment? Moving can be stressful for pets, so if you anticipate an upcoming move (or more than one), there might be a better time.

Consider your lifestyle and the many different dog breeds.

If you’re getting a dog, you also want to spend a lot of time choosing the right breed for your lifestyle. If you’re a bit of a couch potato, a husky (and the amount of exercise they need not to eat your couch!) could be a hindrance. If you’re looking for a running buddy, an English Bulldog or a Pug might not suit you. If you’ve got toddlers or young kids, a large breed could be difficult, as sometimes even well-meaning large dog breeds like Great Danes or Cane Corsos can knock them over without ill intent. Your veterinarian is always a good resource when considering the right breed.

If you’re considering getting a pet but aren’t quite sure, fostering is always a great option! Some services like BorrowMyDoggy allow you to get acquainted with dogs before making the leap. Local rescues and shelters are always looking for volunteers, which could be another excellent way to get your feet wet without the commitment.

While we’re confident pets provide plenty of mental health benefits, we’ve also seen far too many pets get rehomed when the person hasn’t been ready. If you’re considering adopting a cat or dog and have questions, or you’ve recently adopted a pet and are looking to get them in for their first wellness exam, contact us today!



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