Ever notice how pet owners just seem to have a little more pep in their step? That’s because our pets provide us with a slew of mental health benefits—from combating loneliness to increasing mood boosting chemicals in our brain, pets have a pretty powerful effect on humans.
And the evidence is not purely anecdotal—scientific studies have proven time and time again that owning or interacting with an animal (literally, any kind of animal) will make a tangible difference in your life. That’s why animals are such a popular choice for therapy programs in hospitals, schools, and more.
So whether you find yourself struggling with loneliness and depression, or you just want a trusted companion by your side, a pet might be the perfect way to get yourself back on track. Here are the top 4 ways pets can benefit and improve our mental health.
1. Pets Give Us Structure, Routine, And Responsibility
Ever felt like you just couldn’t get out of bed? Well, if you’ve ever been greeted by a wagging tail or a wet nose first thing in the morning, you don’t really have that option—and that’s a good thing!
One of the biggest benefits of pet ownership is that our animals give us a sense of purpose every single day. Without a pet, it’s much easier to rationalize sleeping in or postponing your daily chores—especially if you suffer from anxiety or depression.
However, our pets never stop needing us; regardless of what’s going on in our personal lives, the furry members of the family still need walks, clean litter boxes, and a good brushing with Petsmile toothpaste (of course).
And yes, even the simplest tasks like feeding or walking your pet can instantly boost your mood. A quick walk with your dog has been shown to lower stress hormones and ease the symptoms of depression.
The responsibility of pet ownership isn’t just great for adults, it also teaches valuable lessons to adolescents—studies have shown that children who grow up with a pet in the household develop the soft skills to become patient and empathetic adults. Owning a pet is a powerful way to boost their confidence, create more structure in their day, and build a sense of self-worth over time.
In essence, taking care of a pet really helps us take care of ourselves, and that’s an important lesson for us to learn at any age.
2. Pets Help Us Socialize And Make New Friends
‘How do you even have that many friends?’ is something you might be muttering to yourself as you scroll past the 6th group brunch photo in your Instagram feed, but trust us, making friends as an adult is not easy.
As we age, it becomes more difficult to meet people in similar life stages as our own. We also don’t have built-in opportunities to meet like-minded individuals like we may have in grade school or college—this leads to scarce opportunities to make friends, and as a result, many adults have dwindling social circles.
Oddly enough, you’re not alone in feeling alone; 3 out of 5 adult Americans report that they are lonely, and as you can guess, loneliness and isolation are strong precursors to developing anxiety or depression. Studies have indicated that a strong social circle leads to improved mental health and a better quality of life, so finding your people is incredibly important.
So, where do pets fit into this? Not only do our pets fulfill our immediate need for companionship, but they also give us a natural opportunity to be social and meet new people—because hey, we need some human friends too.
In this particular study, it was discovered that pet owners were 60% more likely to become friends with their neighbors than non-pet owners, and participants credited their pets as one of the top three ways they had managed to forge new friendships.
And according to researchers, animals of all kinds can help us create lasting human to human friendships. Some respondents in the study stated that their pet rabbit, or even their pet snake had helped them make friends!
Here are just a few ways your pets might be able to help you make new social connections:
- A walk in the park with your pet can lead to fellow animal lovers introducing themselves, or even a few compliments from some admirers.
- Finding a playmate for your pet can help you make friends too. If your dog really gets along with a particular dog at the dog park, be sure to introduce yourself to their owner!
- Look for natural social opportunities when you’re out with your pet. Perhaps a trip to the veterinarian, the groomer, or your pet’s day care center could lead to new connections.
- Looking for a conversation starter? Show your coworkers or neighbors some cute pictures of your pet—it’s something we can all enjoy.
3. Pets Help Us Develop A Stronger Connection With Nature
For many of us, our days revolve around screens—from zoom calls to emails, it can be difficult to find the time to get away from technology. Being inundated with technology can have some pretty adverse side effects, with about one third of people working in tech claiming to be depressed.
Unfortunately, spending less time in green spaces is becoming increasingly common, and it’s detrimental to our mental health. Losing our connection to nature can exacerbate symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
Thankfully, having a pet can help us reconnect with nature in a big way. Animals are a powerful motivator to get outdoors and spend some time away from our screens, because animals need the outdoors just as much as we do.
And even if it seems insignificant at first, this added time outdoors can quickly add up—according to The New York Times, dog owners spend about 200 more minutes outside each week (and they’re the better for it). And even if you don’t currently have a pet, picking up a simple hobby like feeding local birds or ducks can give you that outdoor time that’s necessary for a balanced mindset.
When it comes to getting outdoors, get creative! Seek out local hiking trails, beaches, or parks where you and your pets can thrive. With daily nature walks incorporated into your routine, your mood is bound to improve.
4. Pets Fulfill Our Biological Need For Touch
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been deprived of human interaction and touch, which comes with some pretty adverse consequences.
This phenomenon has been referred to as “touch starvation,” because the drastic turn from regular human interaction to nearly none at all can feel incredibly devastating. Touch starvation can feel so severe, that it’s even been compared to how it actually feels to be hungry for food.
While we may not always think about how important touch can be for mental health, a loving embrace or pat on the back can make a huge difference in your mood. People that are touch starved can expect to be sleeping less, have higher feelings of anxiety, and less motivation—without regular human touch, things can get pretty lonely.
It’s no wonder that adoptions shot up dramatically at the height of the pandemic, because animals easily fulfill that basic need for comfort and touch. In a small sample study, 90% of people interviewed stated that touching their pets immediately comforted and calmed them.
Another study conducted at a university showed that college students experienced huge benefits from petting animals—after just 10 minutes petting dogs and cats, their cortisol levels dropped. A separate study found that 15 minutes of petting a dog could reduce your blood pressure by 10%.
These tangible results show that touch is a powerful tool for creating a sense of calm and ease in humans, which is incredible news for those suffering from stress and mental health issues.
So if you live alone, or you just find yourself feeling down, adopting a pet can be a great way to fulfill those basic needs. We all deserve to feel comforted and loved, and our pets certainly love the attention in return.
Keep Your Pets Healthy With Petsmile
Pets are truly a treasure—our animals fulfill so many of our basic mental health needs, but it’s even more important to ask whether we are fulfilling their needs too. While we may be showering our pets with love, food, and attention, oftentimes that’s not enough to keep them at their healthiest.
Only a small percentage of pet owners brush their pet’s teeth (8% for dogs, 4% for cats), which means your pet is likely to experience premature tooth decay and a drastically shortened lifespan. Oral health is one of the most overlooked aspects of pet health, which is why Petsmile strives to bring awareness and safe/affordable products to pet owners.
We hope you’ll consider adding daily brushing to your pet’s routine—and trust us, they’ll find it delicious! To learn more about us, be sure to visit our About Petsmile page or our Instagram.