How Pets Impact Mental Health

Photo Illustration courtesy of Alex Pedroso.

Photo Illustration courtesy of Alex Pedroso.

Alex Pedroso, Life Editor

Studies show that pets have a positive impact on the mental health of their owners. Pets act as emotional companions, providing people comfort and joy.

With just a single stroke, stress levels diminish. Interactions with animals can increase levels of oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief. Studies conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden also show that after 10 minutes of interaction, owners shared similar increased oxytocin levels with their pets meaning that they both benefited mentally from the interaction. These raised levels of oxytocin help reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, which raises blood sugar levels. In other words,  the connection that people have with their pets causes them to have overall lower anxiety and stress.

“I have five dogs and all of them have their own different personalities and I feel like they’re basically my coping mechanism,” junior Jenna Padgett said. “Dogs are practically the sweetest thing on earth. Having anxiety and depression is sort of like a battle because one part of me has no energy to do something while another part is just screaming at me to do it. Once my dog Chaos saw me curled up in a ball near the tub because I just had a massive breakdown and he sort of just laid down down in front of me and put his head on my lap and it calmed me down so much.”  

The pets serve as a distraction from the mental health of the owner. Engaging in playful activities with pets relieves the owner of negative thoughts and pressing issues. Pets allow for people to not have to think about the past or the future because when they are chasing their dog around the yard, they focus on the pet.

Being able to come home to pets is a perk of having one. Pets make great companions for people who feel lonely. Especially for people living away from family, having a pet makes people feel safer and less alone. When a person doesn’t have anyone around to talk to or anyone to text taking to pets about a problem helps. Research conducted  by the University of London found that dogs understand when their owners are sad and feeling down. The study showed that when owners cry, dogs tend to approach them with with tucked tails and bowed heads, displaying empathy.

Pets also provide  people with a sense of responsibility and purpose. People who own pets are responsible of taking care of someone, and such a job can grant  people some sort of fulfillment.

Having a pet also gives many owners a reason to smile on the daily. According to various studies, when a person smiles they release a hormone called dopamine, which in turn makes them  happier.  Even a fish that does not do much can make many people smile. Especially when owners play with their pets, they will smile. The cuteness of a dog rolling over for people to pet its belly or a cat chasing a little red dot gets people to smile.

Having a service dog can help those suffering from depression. Colleen Demling, a certified behaviorist, explains that dogs provide their owners with unconditional love. This helps people who feel depressed or anxious feel like they have a true friend through their difficulties. People who suffer from  depression benefit from having a therapy dog because of their ability to stay connected in today’s society outside out the internet and with an actual living thing.

Service dogs also help people cope with post traumatic stress disorder. There is a program called “K9’s For Warriors” that provides service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD . The goal of this service is for these veterans to return to civilian life with independance. As of September 2017, the program has saved 357 veterans. Those who received dogs from this program stated that their sleeping schedule went back on track and that they  stopped using their depression and sleeping pills.

The unconditional love that pets have for their owners is undeniable. Along with forming a strong relationship between the pet and owner, their company reaps mental health benefits for years to come.