“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France
There’s a reason why we feel warmth in our hearts when we see photos or videos showing love between animals and humans. It’s because of the human and animal connection, a natural bond between the two species. This bond is further strengthened when people take care of pets at home, which shows how beneficial pets are to the well-being of humans and vice versa. Whether you have a pet at home or not right now, it’ll be helpful to know how our furry pals can make us feel better.
Pets and Mental Health
Our mental health refers to our emotional, cognitive, and behavioural well-being. It’s about how we think, feel, and behave.(1) Many people think that having good mental health simply means not having a mental health issue like depression.
Yet, the reality is that our state of mental well-being affects how we deal or handle everyday life, along with personal relationships and the challenges we face. Even if we don’t have any mental health issues, our mental well-being can still be affected by daily stressors.
On the other hand, people who already suffer from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder fight a daily battle. They struggle with finding happiness or letting go of worries or fears. Therapy sessions may work great for them. However, when they’re at home or alone, they can benefit from additional help.
Studies have continuously shown the benefits of having pets on mental health. Pets, especially dogs and cats, help decrease stress and anxiety, which are helpful to both children and adults. Let’s dive into these benefits further.
- Offers Ontological Security
Ontological Security refers to our need to feel a sense of continuity and order in our lives and experiences. It helps us find purpose and meaning in our lives. The majority of people yearns for Ontological Security to feel well.
Pets play a role in giving us this sense of security as they remain one of the constants in our lives. When we leave home for work and then come home, they’re there waiting for us. During times when we’re happy, sad, relaxed, or stressed, our pets are there for us through the good and bad times. More than this, we take pride in taking care of them, accepting their dependence on us willingly.
People who see a purpose in their lives are happier and have more vigour for life. Atul Gawande, author of “Being Mortal” shared a story about a physician who introduced plants and animals in a nursing home.(2) The physician discovered that depressed patients developed a sense of purpose from caring for the plants or animals, like watering the plant or feeding the animals, respectively. The patients were happier and more motivated to move around.
It’s the same way with us. We like being able to care for our pets because we know they need us, and we like that feeling of being needed. We know that when we care for them, they’ll return the affection in one way or another, and we appreciate that.
- Decreases Loneliness
We’ve heard of stories of how pets help make their owners feel happy. Like when someone is crying when she had a bad day and her dog will sit beside her to give her comfort. A simple gesture means a lot to us humans because we like knowing that someone is there for us whenever we feel down.
Pets, especially dogs, can be highly sensitive to changes in the mood of their owners. They can recognise slight changes in facial reactions, too. They can easily tell if their owners are happy or sad. And they will not hesitate to provide companionship and support during these times, a study showed.
Because pets can help ease loneliness, they also help with depression. Studies show that having a pet at home can lower the rate of depression for family members. Pets have a powerful calming presence; they show unconditional love and undivided attention. They don’t judge and they accept their owners wholeheartedly. This helps people focus on the pet instead of negative thoughts.
- Acts as Stress Relievers
Pets help relieve stress, and they do it so naturally. A dog or cat who welcomes you right when you open the door can instantly remove the stress you’ve felt through the day. There have been studies about the effects of having a dog-friendly work environment. Companies like Amazon and Etsy welcome dogs at work as it helps reduce employee stress.
Another study was done to see the effect of dogs on stressed-out college students at the University of British Columbia. The school introduced therapy dogs to 246 students, allowing them to pet and cuddle the pets during the sessions.
The results showed that the students experienced decreased stress levels (lowered cortisol levels), increased happiness, and felt more energetic after each session with the therapy dog. These feelings lasted even 10 hours after the session.
Medical News Today also completed a review of the psychological benefits of pets on mental health.(3) The review concluded with the recommendation that pets should be part of patient care plans because of their valuable help in improving mental health and well-being in patients.
- Promotes Socialisation
Since pets, specifically, dogs, need their daily walk, dog owners are encouraged to walk them, which helps improve their physical well-being. Apart from the exercise, walking dogs help their owners to reconnect with nature a few minutes every day. A walk in the park or along the beach is a good stress reliever and has a relaxing effect.
Additionally, daily dog walking promotes socialisation among dog owners, too. Dog owners understand each other easily and meeting fellow dog owners offers a sense of belongingness, which is helpful to one’s mental well-being.
A study of 800 people over the age of 50 showed that if they walk their dog at least four times a week, they feel a stronger sense of community, and thus, helps with healthy ageing.
In another study of people on wheelchairs with dogs, they received more smiles from others and conversed with people more.(4) According to Psychology Today, able-bodied people tend to feel less comfortable with interactions like avoiding gazes or brief conversations. This makes the presence of dogs all the more valuable in these situations — they provide opportunities for people to connect.
- Great with Children
Parents who have children with autism and ADHD can also benefit from having pets in the home as children build special connections with pets, too. Children with ADHD need to channel excess energy elsewhere, and what better way to do that than to play with a pet.
For instance, playing with a dog or cat in the backyard can help burn off energy. The child can also go with their parents to take their dog for a walk. The aerobic exercise will help improve the child’s concentration due to the increased flow of oxygenated blood to the brain.
As for children with autism, having a pet around helps them with sensory integration.(5) They can get used to the feel of fur or the unique scents of animals. It is also calming for children with autism to work with animals.
Additionally, pets can also boost a child’s self-esteem. Pets do not criticise or show judgement so the children can feel more secure and comfortable around them. They know that their pets accept them for who they are. The added responsibility of caring for their pets is one the children will take to heart and will be proud of.
The children will also benefit from socialisation. Children like to talk about pets and are more likely to bond over cuddling with a pet if they see each other in the park or other places outside the home. Thus, children with ADHD or autism won’t feel like they’re isolated or secluded from their peers.
Enjoy That Magical Connection
We can go on and on about the benefits of having a pet at home. However, it is even better to experience it firsthand. While you don’t have to get a pet right away, you can try and establish connections with pets you see in the park, beach or those that your friends and relatives own. Pet them or cuddle with them and see how that makes you feel. This magical connection is truly special, and one that we all should experience in life.