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4 min read

Can Pets Help with Stress?

a dog

We love our pets, and for many, they are true members of the family. But did you know that pet owners also receive a number of physical and mental health benefits through their animal friends? In this article, we'll explore the benefits of pets, and how they can help us live our best lives.

The Power of Pets on Mental Health

One of the surprising health benefits of pets includes an improvement in mental health markers. According to a systematic review of evidence published in the Veterinary Sciences journal, animals can help with stress relief and mental well-being, and improve overall quality of life. In another study, 47% of Americans currently in therapy reported that that spending time with their pets helps with their mental health.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Owning a pet can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and ease loneliness. Many experts agree that this may be due to the fact that caring for an animal friend offers daily structure, a sense of purpose, and a sense of order and routine to a person's life. Pet ownership also allows the opportunity to give constant love and care to another creature, and that human animal bond can guard against loneliness. Dogs tend to offer unconditional love to their owner.

Build Relationships and Community

One of the most commonly overlooked factors in mental health care is building social connections. Having a dog that requires daily walks brings you into frequent contact with other people, often makes you more approachable and can increase social interaction.

Of course, dogs themselves can provide social support and reduce stress, but they also create interactions with other pet owners and can increase your own network of acquaintances, friends, and neighbors.

Physical Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Most pet owners are fairly active, because they must meet the needs of their companion. Having a dog can encourage exercise, with a study reporting that over 60% of dog owners meet the recommended weekly amount of exercise. Dog owners tend to spend more time walking than non-pet owners. Establishing healthy routines like daily movement can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of various cancers, and have an overall positive effect on heart health.

Physical activity is not the only benefit of walking your dog. Being outside is also beneficial for your health. A systematic review on forest bathing (going outside in nature) showed reduced health risks like lower blood pressure, an increase in heart health, and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol in individuals who get outside regularly.

Get moving with your pet! Not only does regular exercise offer health benefits, but mental health benefits as well. Regular exercise is one of several evidence-based lifestyle habits that has been shown to effectively manage stress. (You can leash and walk some cats, as well).

Assistance Pets and Daily Life

Not only can pet ownership offer physical and mental health benefits, but companion animals can help people in a wide variety of ways. Assistance dogs can provide support and assistance to people with chronic conditions, seeking help for people who experience seizures, low blood sugar, or are prone to falls due to low blood pressure and other challenges. Guide dogs help people who are blind or have low vision to travel safely around their communities.

Emotional support animals can offer love and companionship to people who are experiencing mental health conditions. Playful interaction with animals, especially dogs and cats, are often used as social support in nursing homes for people with Alzheimer's disease and other chronic illness. Pets provide a calming presence, especially for those who love animals.

All in all, assistance dogs provide a sense of independence and confidence for people with disabilities. They can also literally save lives.

Choosing the Right Pet for You

Owning a pet establishes healthy routines and offers both mental and physical health benefits, but unless you put some work into finding the right match for you, both you and your pet may end up stressed out and negate any potential benefits.

Lifestyle Considerations

When choosing a pet, consider your outdoor activity level, the size and energy level of the pet, and the type of pet that would be best suited for your home environment. For example, huskies are acclimated to extremely cold temperatures through their thick coats, and are extremely active. If you live in a hot environment or can't offer the amount of physical activity to maintain pet health and happiness, the stress of the dog can lead to negative outcomes.

Also, consider the time commitment required to care for a pet. Certain animals may seem fun or interesting, but you may find that you don't actually have the time or patience to manage them. Dog ownership is a big responsibility, and other pets, like exotic birds, can require specialized knowledge and an almost lifelong commitment. You may want to watch a neighbor's dog or spend time with a friend's cat before you decide that you can manage caring for an animal.

Final Thoughts: Pets Can Help With Stress

Owning a pet can reduce stress in your life and offer you support when times get tough, as long as you use common sense in selecting your companion. Owning a pet means work and responsibility, but the benefits on human health, both mental and physical health markers like blood pressure and overall wellbeing, can often outweigh any drawbacks. Not to mention the most important thing: a furry friend can be a beloved companion that brings joy and unconditional love into your life, meeting the basic human need for connection.

Connection for Mental and Physical Health in Brooklyn

Whether you are struggling with work related stress, self esteem issues, or are looking to ease loneliness, sometimes a furry friend is not enough to address mental well being and overall health.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level psychotherapists offers a number of evidence-based therapeutic approaches that can offer tools for reducing stress, building healthier communication for social interactions, and increasing life satisfaction.

If you are seeking help for any reason, give us a call today, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right therapist to help you identify any challenges, and create a personalized treatment plan to put you on the path toward improved mental health and wellness. 

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Can Pets Help with Stress?

We love our pets, and for many, they are true members of the family. But did you know that pet owners also receive a number of physical and mental...

Read More