When most of us think about the link between pets and mental health, we immediately imagine a therapy dog or other support animal. But, research shows that any pet (cat, dog, rabbit, snake, hamster, fish, etc.) can benefit us mentally and improve our overall quality of life.
Pet ownership has been proven to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Pets help individuals establish routines, such as daily walking, feeding, or cleaning – these tasks give some pet owners a sense of purpose or accomplishment.
Routines aren’t the only advantage of owning a pet. The National Institutes of Health reports that interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. It’s soothing to have a pet by your side.
Additionally, researchers are looking into ways that pets’ interactions with kids can affect child development. Studies have shown indications that playing with and petting an animal may have positive effects on kids who have autism, attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other conditions. For instance, many studies support allowing animals into hospitals to visit sick children to relieve anxiety or providing therapy dogs at schools to help children focus better and feel more accepted.
But, perhaps, the biggest benefit of all is how pets offer emotional companionship to us. Pets can be trustworthy confidants, sources of love and affection, and loyal friends who will stand by us without judgment. They listen without response and accept us unconditionally.
If you’re a member of the 67 percent of U.S. households who own a pet, chances are you already know this! Now, go get that pet of yours a treat!