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6 Surprising Ways Pet Ownership Can Provide a Mental Health Boost

Pet Can Boost Your Mental Health, Pet Ownership

English novelist George Eliot wrote, “Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” As anyone who has ever been joyfully greeted by a furry friend at the end of a rough day can attest, there’s just something special about the unconditional love of a pet. 

How Having a Pet Can Boost Your Mental Health

At Eagle View Behavioral Health Center, we’ve seen firsthand how transformative pet ownership can be for our clients who are dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. Let’s look at the reasons why we encourage our patients to consider adding a furry (or feathery) friend to their support system.

  1. Pet Ownership Provides Companionship

Whether it’s a dog eagerly awaiting your return home, a cat curled up by your side as you read your favorite book, or a fish tank that brings a sense of calm to your living space, pets can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. This sense of connection and emotional support is particularly valuable if your mental health struggles tend to cause you to withdraw from friends and family.

The ability of pets to ease feelings of loneliness is so well-documented that nursing homes often bring in therapy animals for senior residents. Additionally, some companies provide lifelike robotic pets for people with dementia who can no longer safely manage being with a live animal. 

  1. Pet Ownership Can Boost Your Mood

Interacting with pets has been shown to trigger the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These “happy chemicals” can help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones like cortisol, leading to improvement in your overall mood. If you’re curious about the scientific changes that happen in your body when you pet an animal, Bustle’s This Is What Happens When You Pet a Cute Dog article explores this topic in depth. If you want to conduct your own version of the experiment, consider spending an afternoon volunteering at a local animal shelter to see how interacting with the pets available for adoption affects your mood.

  1. Pet Ownership Can Encourage a More Active Lifestyle

Exercise is a well-known mood booster, but many people who are dealing with mental health challenges don’t take pleasure in organized sports or working out at their local gym. 

In these cases, caring for a pet—especially if it’s a dog—can be an enjoyable way to increase daily physical activity and time spent outdoors. This regular movement not only benefits your physical health but can also have a positive impact on your mental well-being.

Traditionally, experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week. This number can feel overwhelming if you’re currently leading a very sedentary lifestyle, but pet ownership can help you gradually work towards meeting your goal. As Harvard Health points out, “Some exercise is better than none.” 

  1. Pet Ownership Provides a Sense of Purpose

Pets, by their very nature, require regular care and attention. Feeding, grooming, and attending to Fido or Fluffy’s needs can give pet owners a sense of purpose and responsibility that helps them maintain momentum in their overall treatment efforts. 

Caring for a pet can also help shift your focus away from your own problems, providing a healthy distraction. This is one of the reasons why people in recovery from substance use disorders often find pet ownership to be so helpful. Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with day-to-day problems, they find that spending time with an animal companion helps them maintain a more balanced perspective. 

  1. Pet Ownership Encourages Mindfulness

Mindfulness is often associated with meditation and yoga, but these aren’t the only ways to boost your mental health. Caring for a pet requires being fully present in the moment, as you attend to their needs and engage with them. This can be a valuable antidote to the rumination and worry that often accompany mental health issues. 

Watching your dog play with a favorite chew toy or listening to your pet bird sing can help shift your focus away from intrusive thoughts and encourage a greater sense of appreciation for the present moment. Being near a beloved pet may also make it easier to focus on breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques recommended by your therapist. 

  1. Pet Ownership Facilitates Social Connections

Owning a pet can be a great conversation starter. From sharing funny pictures of your cat online to taking your canine companion to the dog park, your relationship with your pet can lead to unexpected social interactions and the formation of new connections. This perk of pet ownership is particularly helpful for people who struggle with social anxiety and have difficulty initiating conversations with strangers. 

For example, a 2021 study that looked at the effect of dog ownership on depression during the COVID-19 pandemic found that dog owners reported significantly higher levels of social support, as well as lower depression scores. Dog ownership was a source of comfort and a way to continue to nurture social connections with others even when many traditional opportunities for in-person interaction had been greatly reduced. 

Developing a Comprehensive Treatment Plan to Support Your Mental Health 

If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, we encourage you to speak with one of our clinicians about incorporating pet ownership into your overall treatment strategy. Together, we can explore how a furry, feathery, or scaly friend might be able to enhance your well-being and support your journey towards better mental health.

Remember, you don’t have to face your mental health challenges alone. With the right support system, you can take meaningful steps towards improved emotional and psychological well-being. Contact us today to learn more about the services offered at our Bettendorf, Iowa, treatment center or to request a confidential, no-cost assessment

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