Pets and mental health
The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress.
A pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners. In many ways, pets can help us to live mentally healthier lives.
Pets are also a great motivator for people. Dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression. Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can gives owning a chance to relax and calm their minds. Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. It also helps you feel valuable and needed.
Walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners and this helps owners to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier.
A pet is great companion. They give owners company, a sense of security and someone to share the routine of the day with. Pets can be especially valuable company for those in later life and living alone.
People in later life experiencing typical life stresses can be comforted by a companion pet. It is thought that a dog can be a stress buffer that softens the effects of adverse events on a person. With an animal in the home, people with Alzheimer's are thought to have fewer anxious outbursts.
Children with ADHD can benefit from working with and keeping a pet. Taking charge of the jobs on a pet care schedule, such as feeding, walking and bathing, helps a child learn to plan and be responsible.
Pets need to play, and playing with a pet is an great way to release excess energy. Your child can burn off energy walking a dog or running around with a kitten, making them more relaxed later in the day and calmer at night. Fresh air and good circulation from aerobic exercise increases oxygen-filled blood flow to a child's brain, therefore increasing their ability to concentrate.
Children with ADHD are used to their parents trying to calm them down or reprimanding them. A pet is a great listener, and offers unconditional love and will not criticize a child for having too much energy. This can aid a child's self-confidence.
Sensory issues are common among children with autism. Sensory integration activities are designed to help them get used to the way something feels against their skin or how it smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both been used for this purpose. Children with autism often find it calming to work with animals.
It has been claimed that in the case of people with autism, animals can reduce stereotyped behavior, lessen sensory sensitivity, and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others. Further research into this area needs to be carried out however.
We carried out a study with Cats Protection in 2011 which involved over 600 cat- and non-cat-owning respondents, with half of them describing themselves as currently having a mental health problem. The survey found that 87% of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76% said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends.
Half of the cat owners felt that their cat's presence and companionship was most helpful, followed by a third of respondents who described stroking a cat as a calming and helpful activity.