Pets and Mental Health – Furry Companions
Anyone who lives with a furry companion knows how good they can make us feel but what is the true impact of pets and mental health?
I, for one, know how great a source of comfort my dog is during my times of distress, and I thought I would research the benefits of companion animals for our mental health needs.
Since the times of the ancients, we have had pets, be it from dogs for hunting to cats who were deified, birds for sending messages, etc.
We as a species enjoy the company of other species, which makes for a special bond, and it can also help our mental health.
Recent studies prove this connection between pets and mental health, and this is what I will be focusing on in this article, from group therapy sessions with an animal to your own beloved pet.
Pets and Mental Health Research
I know my dog, George, gives me a sense of calm that no human can, and I also believe many others feel the same way about their own furry companion. According to an article in the Guardian:
there are other reasons that pets and therapy animals are increasingly recognised as being good for our mental health. In addition to helping to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness, there are all the benefits that come from having to exercise a dog.Guardian
Their main focus was on the benefits of dogs during the Covid pandemic and the lockdowns. However, it does show our interaction with our pet has a great deal of impact on our mental health. As we all know, the stresses placed upon us during the pandemic have been huge, and many people have gone out and bought a pet for company.
It seems without research people gravitate towards animals for comfort and solace.
Although the above-quoted article focuses on dogs, cats can also offer their own special and unique way of helping us deal with our mental health issues. They may be more self-interested than dogs, but the very act of stroking a cat can calm the nerves.
Pets should be considered a main rather than a marginal source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems, and this has implications for the planning and delivery of mental health services.BMC Psychiatry
According to the research above, our companion animals should be part of our therapy to regain or maintain good overall mental health. Our medical therapy teams need to consider when working out care plans for those of us with severe mental illness.
The very act of caring for another being and loving that other creates the chemical oxytocin, the same chemical a mother creates when she is bonding with her child during breastfeeding. The chemical is also known as the love chemical, and for a good reason. It builds trust, loyalty, empathy and can instil positive memories.
Oxytocin has earned the nickname “the cuddle” or “love” hormone because it’s released when people snuggle up, have sex, or bond socially—in fact, the effect is so strong, that even petting a dog has been shown to release it.Psycom
When we look after an animal, more so with dogs, we accept them into our lives and treat them as some people call them “fur babies”. We have them as part of our own family; they are a trusted and loyal companion; we fall in love with them, which, in turn, helps us with our mental health.
They can make us laugh; we’ve all seen funny cat videos, they make us smile. Pets and mental health can go hand in hand as a tonic for improving wellness.
On the Downside
Pets are not with us forever; we tend to outlive our pets for many years. Unless your companion animal is a parrot or a tortoise, you will have to deal with grief and the decline of your pet. This can be too much to bear for some people, so they refrain from introducing an animal into their lives.
The negative aspects of pet ownership were also highlighted, including the practical and emotional burden of pet ownership and the psychological impact that losing a pet has.BMC
I have lived with many animals over the years, and the death of everyone hit me hard, and I grieved. However, I can look at their pictures and remember all the goodness that came out of their relationships with them. They all had very different personalities, from an angry ninja cat to a fluffy princess feline.
My dog George is twelve years old at the time of writing, and I know he is slowing up and has grey hairs on his muzzle, but I hope he still has a few more good years left in him.
The other downside addressed in the quote is the burden; yes, they take a lot of mental effort to look after, more so dogs, which require the most attention.
I personally would advise anyone with serious mental illness to avoid getting a dog; I sometimes find when my mental illness flares up the burden of walking my dog too much. But my dog also knows about my illness, and he is very flexible; he has adapted to me.
Pets and mental health should be given serious consideration when contemplating your personal self-care plan, as they give more than is instantly visible.
If you consider buying a pet and have poor mental health, a cat is a good choice. They are lower maintenance or a relaxed dog like an ex-racing greyhound; they love a cuddle and chilling on the sofa. Also, despite their power in their running, they don’t need much exercise, so ideal as a companion animal.
I, for one, would not be without an animal in my life; they bring me so much joy and give me the support I need, a need I often don’t know about until they do something funny.
Peace & Blessings