15 Ways Pets Increase Mental Health

15 Ways Pets Increase Mental Health

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You probably love the tail-wagging greeting your dog gives you when you arrive home. Sloppy licks and wiggles are normal ways dogs express how happy they are to see you. Cats are no different. Your kitty may give you a friendly head bump or tap you on the legs with their paws to show their love. Having a sweet pet not only makes coming home enjoyable.  Whether you have a dog, cat, or guinea pig, the benefits of pets on your mental health are significant.

15 Benefits of Pets on Your Mental Health and Overall Wellness

Whether your best friend is furry, fuzzy, or finned, they can surprisingly make a significant impact on your life.

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1 – Supporting your mental health

Pets have an innate way of giving support. They are extremely loyal and dedicated to being with you all the time. A lick or a nudge reminds you they’re there for you…or they’re just hungry.  Either way, they need you. Even when you’re having a hard day, taking care of a pet makes you get up to take care of them. Stroking their fur is relaxing and calms you down. Your pet offers you quiet support and unconditional love every day.

2 – Comforts you

Pets remind you that snuggling isn’t optional. It’s mandatory for your fur baby. They are comforters by nature. Where humans need to learn how to comfort, pets seem to know exactly how to curl up next to you and bring comfort. Their presence offers improved mental health. Researcher, Dr. Ann Berger offers insight into why we receive comfort from pets:

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Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving, their attention is focused on the person all the time.”

So, if you don’t have a pet, knowing the mental health benefits could be the motivation you need to find a furry friend to cuddle.

3 – Ease your loneliness

You’re never alone when you have a pet. They’re right next to you eager for a pat on the head or tickle under the chin. You might trip over your canine because they lie right at your feet. You can complain or vent your frustration about work or school to your pets. They listen without judgment. Of course, they want you to pet them, because pets seem to know when you need to touch them. It’s a basic human need they instinctively understand. Petting your sweet kitty not only lessens your loneliness, but it helps lower your heart rate and helps you relax.

4  – Eases depression

Pets offer mental health benefits to everyone around them. They make you laugh even if you’re feeling sad. Whether it’s sticking their butt up in the air or flopping down on the floor in a comical way, pets bring a smile to your face even if you feel blue. Pets have a positive effect on your mood. You have trusted friends who never withdraw from you but show you love and devotion even on your down days.

5 – Help with ADHD

Dogs help kids who struggle with ADHD. They help them focus and feel calm. They also help adults who have ADHD. They help you get exercise when you need to get rid of your pent-up energy. When you’re focused on your pet, you’re calmer and relaxed. Having a pet around naturally eases your restlessness.

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6 – Exercise improves your mental health

Having a dog is great motivation to exercise. They need you to walk them several times a day. According to physical exercise standards, walking your dog gives you moderate to vigorous exercise depending on how fast you walk with your pooch. Not only does walking your dog increase your physical exercise, but it gets you outdoors for some fresh air and sunlight. It’s thought that older people will go for a walk with their dog more often than they go for walks with humans. That’s the power of the pet to motivate.

7 – Socializing can support better mental health

Never underestimate the power of your pet to help you strike up friendships. Pets are a natural icebreaker for talking to your neighbors. You’re more likely to see neighbors on your morning and evening walks. It’s natural to discuss your dog’s breed or personality with the people you meet. They may want to pet your dog or comment on how they look. These easy socializing experiences may grow into friendships down the road. You may end up meeting your next-door neighbor who loves pet sitting.

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8 – Lower your risk of a heart attack

Your pet not only provides you with mental health benefits but pet ownership can improve your physical health. It’s a proven fact that people who own a cat are less likely to have a fatal heart attack. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why this is true, but it could be because cats help you feel calmer, and more at peace. Or it could be that people who choose cats are naturally healthier. Whatever the reason, if you’re a cat lady or cat man, it’s a good thing for your heart.

9 – Lowers your blood pressure (better mental health = less stress)

When you hang out with your pet, your blood pressure decreases. You may feel stress drop, causing you to feel more relaxed. Pets have the natural ability to help you relax, which lowers your blood pressure. Studies show that petting your fur baby decreases your cortisol levels and lowers your blood pressure. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Stroking your cat or dog also encourages your body to release mood-enhancing hormones which make you feel relaxed and happy.

10 – Eases stress, the underlying factor for many mental health concerns

Pets are a lot of work. You need to feed, water, and exercise them. They need regular check-ups and sometimes medications for physical conditions. Then there are the toys, special beds, and other paraphernalia you need to buy to keep your fur baby entertained and comfortable. Despite all the stress, your pet is your best friend. They’re there for you when you feel sad or tired. They cuddle and nuzzle you to remind you it’s time to eat or go outside. Pets give you unconditional love and that is a huge stress release. Many offices, hospitals, and nursing homes bring dogs in to interact with people to help ease stress.

11 – Reduces your chance of allergies

Many pets shed. Although this isn’t fun to vacuum all the time, interestingly, having a pet around boosts your immune system. This is especially true for infants who are exposed to pets. Infants who have one or more pets in the house are less apt to have an allergy compared to kids that aren’t exposed to pets.

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12 – Lowers your blood sugar

Of course, your pets aren’t overseeing your diet to be sure you keep your blood sugar down, but there’s a connection between owning a pet and being more disciplined about maintaining your blood glucose levels. Having the responsibility to care for an animal helps kids who are diabetic because they learn to feed and water them daily. This transfers to their daily care. Those young people who care for pets were better at keeping tabs on their own diabetes.

13 – Feel happier

People who own a pet are overall happier than those without a pet. This is because they may have a sense of belonging or meaning. When you’re caring for a pet, you feel in control of your life and theirs.

14 – Improves your brain

Having contact with pets creates positive memories which help your brain. People who have experienced a stroke or have dementia often smile at pets. This is because there’s a connection that only an animal can provide. Also, older people who care for pets stay engaged mentally.

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15 – They make you playful

As an adult, it’s easy to lose your sense of playfulness. Maybe your job is stressful with lots of decisions, or you struggle with depression. No matter what’s going on in your life, your pet inspires you to be playful. They love it when you throw a ball, tickle them or play hide and seek with them. Something about a pet brings out the playfulness in you like you were a kid again. And that’s a good thing.

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Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Pets on Happiness and Mental Health

It’s no wonder so many people own pets. Their sweet kisses, head bumps, or wiggles let you know they’re so happy to see you when you get home. Besides showing their love, pets provide humans with mental health benefits. You’re less apt to have allergies, a heart attack, or depression when you have a pet. Your fur baby provides motivation to get outside and walk for better health. Benefits of pets even include causing you to socialize more and have less stress. Having a sweet pet makes your life more enjoyable and overall happier. If you don’t own a pet, maybe it’s time you considered the advantages. There’s a fur baby out there somewhere just waiting for a mandatory cuddle with you.

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Jennifer is a wife, mother, and grandmother. Before she started writing, Jennifer was an elementary school instructional assistant, home educator, and missionary. She has a BA degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida, Tampa. She's a member of Redeeming Grace Church in Fairfax, Va. When she's not writing, she's hanging out with her family and dog, Sam. Member of: American Christian Fiction Writers Fellowship ACFW; Capital Christian Writer Fellowship CCWF

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