Now that we’re staying home more and we’re often isolated from people we love, pets have become more important than ever. In fact, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted what many of us already knew. That pets, no matter the species or breed, can lighten our days and bring joy to our lives. Plus, they’re super cute.
But how do they help, and why does it matter? Let’s dig into the facts and find out how pets can improve our mental health.
Friends for life
Pets provide us with incredible companionship, which makes a huge difference in our mental health. They help ease loneliness, give us someone to interact with on a regular basis, and love us unconditionally. Dogs are especially known for their ability to sense their owner’s feelings and interact with them, but all animals do. Just as anyone with an iguana, bird, or hamster, and they’ll agree: a pet is a friend for life.
Cats might have a reputation for being aloof, but the bond people have with their cats can be quite profound. “My cat is incredibly intuitive,” says Vetster’s Lead Copywriter Niki Chaplin. “He can tell when I’m upset. When I was pregnant he curled up with my belly, like he knew. We’re in sync.”
Routine, routine, routine
“Pets love routine,” says Dr. Sarah Machell, Vetster’s Medical Director. And guess what, people do too! And it’s one of the first things to change during times of uncertainty, which can lead to poor sleep, eating badly, lack of focus, and inactivity, which can all make depression and other mental health issues worse according to Rachel Goldman, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
But getting stuck in a rut is almost impossible with a pet. Dogs need to be walked and played with, cats need to be groomed and have litter to clean. Iguanas need to be fed, and birds (especially parrots) need to chat. Getting your pet into a good routine will help your pets feel secure, help you feel more in control, and give structure to your days. Which can make a huge difference in your overall mental wellbeing.
Boost your happy hormones
Playing with your pets is a great way to build your bond and entertain your pet, but it’s also a great way to improve your mental health. How? Playing with your pet can boost your oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine levels, which are the hormones that help with mood. (Oxytocin is the same hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies.) More of these happy hormones can help ease stress and depression, and help you recenter yourself in a time of crisis. Plus, according to John Hopkins Medicine, pets help lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone so the effects are doubled.
Plus, playing with pets has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve your overall health. According to Harvard Medical School, “The power of touch also appears to be an important part of this ‘pet effect.’ Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog.” So there are physical benefits, too!
When you get a pet, you also join a community of pet owners. Whether it’s taking your dog to a dog park and meeting the other pet parents, or joining online groups dedicated to your pet type, having a pet is an easy way to connect with other people around a shared interest. Those social connections can bring light to dark days, and help you feel more connected to the world around you.
Give your pet an extra tickle, pet, or treat. They’re doing a lot of hard work to keep you loved and happy, just by being there.
If you are in crisis, please reach out to your local crisis line. In Canada, you can call the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 833-456-4566. In the U.S., you can can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Remember, help is never far away if you need it. And if you think you might benefit from a service animal, reach out to your local service animal authority to start the process.
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