You may have seen the quote: “The best therapist has fur and four legs” floating around the interwebs by way of inspirational memes, but is there any truth to this saying? According to studies performed by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), our pets can actually benefit our mental health in a variety of ways. This is why it's no surprise to us that so many shelters have been cleared during this COVID-19 pandemic, as pets can provide so much comfort.
Here are some other ways having a pet can benefit your mental health:
Having a Pet Combats Feelings of Loneliness
With people currently practicing social distancing and staying home to prevent the spread of this Coronavirus, feelings of loneliness and isolation can creep up as we distance ourselves from others. On the other hand, we now get to spend more time with our furry family members (which isn’t such a bad thing!). Having a pet around during this quarantine has been shown to help decrease the feeling of isolation and loneliness, due to pets providing a sense of companionship.
According to a 2019 study performed by HABRI, “80% of pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely. When it comes to both pet owners and non-pet-owners, 85% of respondents believe interaction with a companion animal can help reduce loneliness and 76% agree human-animal interactions can help address social isolation. Further, pet owners with the closest bond to their pet see the highest positive impact on their feelings of loneliness and social isolation.” Having a pet in the household has also shown to help lower levels of depression as a result of our pets offering unlimited companionship and unconditional love. In a world in which we are judged by much of what we do and say, this can be an invaluable trait to have in a companion.
Pets Help Us Build Social Bonds with Others
When it comes to social interactions with other people, pets are a great way to facilitate meetings. Pets are wonderful conversation starters. Whether you’re walking your dog in the park or posting a photo of your new cat online, a cute dog or cat can help humans connect over their mutual love of their pets and shared experiences of owning a pet (six feet apart these days, of course!). These social interactions with others can help relieve social anxiety, as you are able to bond with them over a common interest.
This is especially true when you consider the many social events that are based around pets created each year, such as doggie beach days, conventions, and meetups. These events centered around pets provide opportunities for fellow pet lovers to meet others, potentially make some new friends, and most importantly, have fun.
Having a Pet Helps Us To Alleviate Stress
Your furry loved one not only helps you build relationships with others but having a pet around also has also been shown to alleviate stress. In a study done by the University of British Columbia where dogs were taken to college campuses for a “therapy dog session” and students were able to interact and play with the dogs, “The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session.” There's nothing quite like the love of a doggo!
Furthermore, interacting with a pet has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. So when your pet is asking for belly rubs, it benefits both of you!
Pets Motivate Us to Be Healthier
Taking care of a pet that is dependent on you is the perfect motivation for building healthy habits. Need to get up earlier? Your precious pets need to be fed in the morning so there’s always a reason to wake up, get out of bed, and start the day. Need to exercise more? Dogs need to be walked daily and some breeds are great for running with, making this the prime opportunity to go out and enjoy the outdoors with your favorite pup. Pets provide the ultimate accountability when it comes to building healthy habits.
Having to care for a pet also helps us to practice caring for ourselves and our own health. Whenever you schedule your furry family member for their annual or bi-annual wellness exam, don’t forget to schedule a check-up for yourself. Health is wealth!