Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet
by Marina Golub
You’re thinking of getting a puppy or maybe your child would really like to have one but you’re reluctant to give in for some reason? You’re afraid that it would be too much of an obligation and you just don’t have the time to take care of them. Or, maybe you’ve heard about comfort and therapy animals and about health benefits that come from having a pet by your side and you’re interested to find out more. If so, you’re at the right place, Nupathe is here to present you with some mental health benefits of having a pet.
Mental Health and Pets
We’ve decided to focus on mental health since people tend to neglect that aspect more than the physical one. After doing extensive research on the relationship between your well-being and pet companionship, we’ve found that having a pet can do you much good. Probably more than you’d expect. Read on and find out which are the mental health benefits that come from having a pet companion. (Go for it, we’re rooting for you!)
Stress and Feeling Anxious
Everybody feels stressed and anxious sometimes, it’s unpleasant but also very common. The reason can be your job, school, friends, and family. You feel overwhelmed, under pressure, and worried like you’re constantly in an emergency situation. Feeling stressed and/or anxious, even though not classified as a mental illness, also has a very negative effect on your mental health. Good thing is that animals can help you cope.
The result of a study, published in 2012, in the field of human-animal interactions shows that, when positive, those interactions have biological responses which can be scientifically proven and measured. For example, when the level of oxytocin, the “love hormone”, increases, the level of parameters related to stress, like epinephrine (adrenaline), decreases. To put it simply more love between you and your pet=less stress.
Pets have a calming effect on their human companions and are able to alleviate the tension and pressure you feel on a daily bases. Also, if you’re feeling anxious or worried about the issues you’re currently dealing with, spending time with your pet can make you forget all those worries at least temporarily and can make you feel better in an instant.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very serious mental health illness which interferes with person’s normal day-to-day functioning. People usually associate it with war veterans, but the truth is that anyone who experiences or is a witness of some trauma (car crash, assault, natural disaster, sudden death of a loved one) can be affected by this condition. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, outbursts of anger and as you can imagine, it can be very challenging for patients to deal with it.
Therapy for PTSD sufferers usually consists of medication and counseling but recently animal-assisted therapy is becoming more and more present. In most cases, therapy involves dogs, but cats, birds, and horses have also been successfully included.
How so, you may wonder? Well, if you have a companion, you feel less lonely and isolated, which is often the case with mental illnesses. Unfortunately, patients usually tend to feel like their friends and family can’t understand or relate to how they’re feeling. Animals, on the other hand, are extremely accepting and always willing to provide comfort and affection to their loving humans. Additionally, pets rely on humans, for sustenance, exercises and equally important for attention. If patients and people, in general, have someone to care for, someone who depends on them, they are less inclined to focus on their own negative thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the study shows that war veterans who have a pet, adapt more easily to a civilian way of life and are able to reduce the use of medications more quickly.
Autism in Children
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a condition with a wide range of difficulties in three areas – social interaction, communication and tendency for repetitive behaviors. The term spectrum indicates that symptoms and their severity in those three main areas vary a great deal. Fortunately, animal presence seems to have a very positive effect on social skills of children with autism.
A study published in 2014 which aimed to examine how children with autism react to family pet dogs, gave some very promising results, especially in the social skills area. A great majority of parents, 94% to be exact, stated that the child bonded very strongly with the pet. Also, some previous research found that children with autism who have had more interactions with animals have better social skills and fewer difficulties in that particular domain.
Unfortunately, children with autism often might struggle to get accepted in their community. Pet animals, on the other hand, are unprejudiced and non-judgemental. They have a tendency to provide unconditional love and comfort and that’s especially beneficial for the children with autism. However, the decision to get a dog or some other pet for a child with autism should not be made without careful deliberation. For some children, they can be very unpredictable. That’s why the parents should make sure that children have sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the pet.
Pets Make Us Happier and Healthier
As you can see, having a pet companion can be very beneficial for your mental health. Whether you’re feeling under the pressure in school or having a stressful day at work, pets can help. A simple walk with your dog or some cuddle time with your cat can instantly brighten up your mood.
Pets play a special role in therapy of those affected by mental health issues. Maybe you know someone who suffers from PTSD or autism, a family member or a close friend. To that person, animals can provide unconditional love and emotional support which will speed up their recovery and improve the quality of their life in general.
If you want a happier and healthier life, consider providing a home for a pet animal. Take care of your pet companion and they’ll take care of you.