Do pets help anxiety
5 Ways Pets Help with Stress and Mental Health
Your co-worker at home helps you have a happier, healthier mind.
Millions of people around the world love their pets -- they're part of the family! We enjoy their companionship and going for walks, playing with them and even talking and singing to them.
Evidence suggests that attachment to pets is good for human health and even helps build a better community.
It's no secret that pets can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.
Pets can be especially helpful as we grow older. In a survey on healthy aging, adults over 50 reported these top 3 benefits:
- Less stress
- Better sense of purpose
- More social connection
5 ways pets help your mental health
- Pets can reduce work-related stress. Two out of three employees say work stresses them out and 40% say their job gets in the way of their health. Studies show that pets in the workplace help reduce stress and improve employee satisfaction.
- Pets can help increase productivity, wherever you work. When a dog joins a virtual meeting, group members rank their teammates higher on trust, team cohesion and camaraderie.
- Pets help manage anxiety. Now more than ever, many people are feeling anxious or struggling with mental health. Pets provide companionship and support.
- Pets can help you be more active. They give you a reason to get outside, get some fresh air and get active, which is proven to improve your mood, sleep and mental health.
- Pets provide a sense of togetherness. The bond with a pet helps you to not feel alone. When owners see, touch, hear or talk to their companion animals, it brings a sense of goodwill, joy, nurturing and happiness.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: May 20, 2021
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The Health and Mood-Boosting Benefits of Pets
Pets come with some powerful health benefits.Here’s how caring for a dog, cat, or other animal can help relieve depression and anxiety, lower stress, and improve your heart health.
The benefits of pets
Most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond.
Pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling (and to work out when the next walk or treat might be coming, of course).
Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
Any pet can improve your health
While it’s true that people with pets often experience greater health benefits than those without, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. A rabbit could be ideal if you’re allergic to other animals or have limited space but still want a furry friend to snuggle with. Birds can encourage social interaction and help keep your mind sharp if you’re an older adult. Snakes, lizards, and other reptiles can make for exotic companions. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower your pulse rate.
Studies have shown that:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
- Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
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How pets can help you make healthy lifestyle changes
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes plays an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Caring for a pet can help you make healthy lifestyle changes by:
Increasing exercise. Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behavior problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.
Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for an animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat.
Helping you meet new people. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Because pets tend to live in the moment—they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present.
Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one plaintive look from your pet and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.
[Read: Coping with Depression]
Providing sensory stress relief. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animal can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.
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The benefits of pets for older adults
As well as providing vital companionship, owning a pet can play an important role in healthy aging by helping you to:
Find meaning and joy in life. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your life purpose. You may retire from your career or your children may move far away. Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth. Choosing to adopt a pet from a shelter, especially an older pet, can add to your sense of fulfillment, knowing that you’ve provided a home to a pet that may otherwise have been euthanized.
[Read: Cultivating Happiness]
Stay connected. Maintaining a social network isn’t always easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends can get harder. Pets, especially dogs, are a great way for older adults to spark up conversations and meet new people.
Boost your vitality. You can overcome many of the physical challenges associated with aging by taking good care of yourself. Dogs, cats, and other pets encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, which can help boost your immune system and increase your energy.
The benefits of pets for children
Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having a dog or cat.
[Read: Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children]
- Unlike parents or teachers, pets are never critical and don’t give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security in children. Having an ever-present pet can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t around.
- Having the love and companionship of a pet can make a child feel important and help them develop a positive self-image.
- Kids who are emotionally attached to their pets are better able to build relationships with other people.
- Studies have also shown that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids. Of course, both the animal and the child need to be trained to behave appropriately with each other.
- A pet can help develop a young and expanding mind by teaching a child empathy and understanding. Kids can talk with their pet without a fear of rejection, which enables them to build their confidence, and even their vocabulary.
- Getting even a small, caged pet, such as a guinea pig or hamster, is a great way to teach a child responsibility.
Like adults, children can benefit from playing with a pet. It can be a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body. Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child. It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance. Caring for a furry friend can also offer another benefit to a child: immense joy.
Owning a pet is a major commitment
Despite all the benefits, it’s important to remember that a pet is not a miracle cure for mental health issues. Owning a pet is beneficial and comforting only for those who love and appreciate domestic animals and have the time and money to keep a pet happy and healthy. If you’re simply not an “animal person,” pet ownership is not going to provide you with any health benefits or improve your life.
Even if you love animals, it’s important to understand everything that caring for a pet entails. Owning a pet is a major commitment that will last through the animal’s lifetime, perhaps 10 or 15 years in the case of dogs. And at the end of that commitment, you’ll face the grief and mourning that comes with losing a beloved companion.
[Read: Coping with Losing a Pet]
Other drawbacks to owning a pet include:
Pets cost money. Food bills, veterinary care, licenses, grooming costs, toys, bedding, boarding fees, and other maintenance expenses can mount up. If you’re unemployed or elderly, on a limited fixed income, it may be a struggle to cope with the expense of pet ownership.
Pets require time and attention. As any dog owner will tell you, there’s nothing therapeutic about coming home to a dog that has been locked up in the house on his own all day. Dogs need daily exercise to stay calm and well-balanced; most other pets require at least daily care and attention.
Owning a pet can curb some of your social activity. A dog can only be left alone for a limited time. By training your dog, you’ll be able to take him with you to visit friends, run errands, or sit outside a coffee shop, for example, but you won’t be able to leave for a spur of the moment weekend away without arranging care for your pet first.
Pets can be destructive. Any pet can have an occasional accident at home. Some cats may be prone to shredding upholstery, some dogs to chewing shoes. While training can help eradicate negative, destructive behavior, they remain common in animals left alone without exercise or stimulation for long periods of time.
Pets require responsibility. Most dogs, regardless of size and breed, are capable of inflicting injury on people if not handled responsibly by their owners. Even cats can scratch or bite. Pet owners need to be alert to any danger, especially around children.
Pets carry health risks for some people. While there are some diseases that can be transmitted from cats and dogs to their human handlers, allergies are the most common health risk of pet ownership. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with a pet allergy, carefully consider whether you can live with the symptoms before committing to pet ownership. Also consider that some friends or relatives with allergies may no longer be able to visit your home if you have a pet.
How to find the perfect pet
If you’ve decided that owning a pet is right for you, congratulations: you’re about to open your life to a unique and rewarding relationship. While people who have pets tend to be happier, more independent, and feel more secure than those without pets, it’s important to select the type of pet that best suits your needs and lifestyle.
Talk to other members of your household and agree on the qualities you want in a pet and those that you’d prefer to avoid. In the case of dogs, man’s best friend comes in countless breeds or mix of breeds, each offering a different blend of personality traits.
If you’re looking for something smaller or with less energy, then maybe a cat or a rabbit would be right for you and your family. Here are some things to ask yourself when looking for the perfect pet:
- Do you live in a small apartment or a large house with a backyard? This will greatly determine the size of the animal best suited to your home. For instance, a cat or caged animal may be more suitable to apartment living than a large dog.
- How much time will the animal spend alone each day? If you’re out for most of the day—and don’t intend to hire a pet sitter or use daycare—you’ll want an animal that doesn’t need a lot of attention, rather than a dog.
- Do you live with small children or someone frail or disabled who could be knocked over by a large dog? Maybe a smaller animal would be a safer option.
- How much shedding can you tolerate? Specific dog and cat breeds tend to shed less or you could opt for a pet that doesn’t shed at all, like an iguana or a snake (well, at least not hair).
Ultimately, when choosing a pet, be honest with yourself about the lifestyle you enjoy and the kind of pet you’d like to care for. If you’re in doubt about caring for a larger animal, start small, get a fish or a smaller, caged animal. See how it fits and go from there.
Alternatives to pet ownership
If you don’t have the time, money, or ability to own a pet full-time, there are still ways you can experience the health benefits of being around animals. You can ask to walk a neighbor’s dog, for example, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Most animal shelters or rescue groups welcome volunteers to help care for homeless pets or assist at adoption events. You’ll not only be helping yourself, but also helping to socialize and exercise the animals, making them more adoptable.
Some animal shelters and rescue groups offer pet “rental” programs. Dogs and cats that are available for adoption can be taken out for walks or play dates. You can also foster an animal temporarily until a permanent home is found for him, or to decide if the animal is right for you.
A variety of different organizations offer specially trained therapy dogs and cats to visit children’s hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospice programs, shelters, and schools. During these visits, people are invited to pet and stroke the animals, which can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Authors: Kai Lundgren, Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.
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Last updated: November 1, 2022
The positive impact of animals on human life
Living near pets is very beneficial for humans, and this has long been confirmed by scientific facts. Coexistence with animals necessarily colors our life with bright colors, saturates and prolongs it. But medical research also confirms the specific impact of pets on our health.
Let's dwell on the most basic facts of the benefits of communicating with pets:
Reducing stress and anxiety
Contact with animals raises the level of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn allows you to reduce the level of the stress-causing hormone - cortisol. Therefore, now, in the event of stressful conditions, doctors even recommend getting a pet.
Interaction with pets is especially beneficial for babies. Young children living in families with animals experience significantly less stress and anxiety, as well as social problems. Such communication negates the likelihood of developing mental, emotional and behavioral disorders in adulthood.
Strengthening of the cardiovascular system and stabilization of blood pressure
According to cardiology studies, owners of pets (mostly cats and dogs) are significantly less susceptible to pressure drops and heart problems. In addition to calming down during communication and stroking pets, regular walks with them in the fresh air are of great importance.
Increased physical activity
It's no secret that having a pet makes a person move more. This applies not only to walking and walking, but also to bathing and cleaning up after animals. The most active, of course, are dog owners, but active games with cats are no less useful.
Diagnostics of human diseases
Thanks to the amazing animal sense of smell, it is possible to determine the slightest changes in the human body. Pets, sensing such changes, dramatically change their behavior next to the owners. Most often, animals can feel diseases such as cancer, narcolepsy, migraine, diabetes, and seizures. Dogs are especially sensitive to diseases, identifying them with a high level of accuracy.
Reducing the risk of disease
It has been proven that keeping pets can improve immunity, therefore, the risk of developing allergic diseases and heart disease is significantly reduced. However, scientists at California and Stanford Universities have found that our pets protect the body from some forms of cancer. Children who grow up in families with pets are much less likely to experience allergies, because from birth they get used to the wool and waste products of animals.
The healing effect of animals on man
To relieve pain, improve mood and get rid of diseases, animal therapy, the so-called zoo or animal therapy, has long been used all over the world. It includes hippotherapy (communication with horses), hirudotherapy (treatment with leeches), apitherapy (treatment with bee products), dolphin therapy and pet therapy (treatment with pets). Most often it is used in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. Communication with animals allows patients to recover faster after illnesses and be distracted from problems.
Expanding social networks
Common interests bring people together and unite. With the help of pets, it is much easier for a person to talk, make new acquaintances or keep up a conversation. Pet owners often get to know each other and begin to communicate during walks, in pet stores and on the Internet. After all, they always have something to discuss and talk about. In this way, our "younger friends" help us cope with loneliness and get rid of shyness.
If you still do not have a pet, then perhaps now you are thinking about it.
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Pets relieve depression and make people happier. How do they help to survive stress and reduce pressure?: People: From life: Lenta.ru
Communicate with animals - they reduce anxiety who positively influences the emotional state. For some, these are relatives, partners, friends, and for some it becomes calmer and easier from communicating with pets. And the point here, as studies show, is not only the love of animals, but also the fact that they are really able to reduce feelings of anxiety. "Lenta.ru" within the framework of the project "What to do?" tells why the opinion that animals heal is not a myth.
Animals make us calmer and healthier. Research confirms
In 2006, German and Australian scientists published data from a study involving nine thousand people. Since 1984, researchers have looked at people who have pets and those who don't. Scientists were interested in how often these groups of respondents turn to doctors with health complaints and how animals affect their condition. It found that in both countries, pet owners made about 15 percent fewer annual doctor visits than non-pet owners. At the same time, the owners of not only dogs and cats, but also horses, birds and fish took part in the study.
Another 2019 study shows that aquarium fish have a calming effect on people. Fish breeders in the US, UK, Germany, France, Taiwan, and Australia have reported that watching aquarium inhabitants reduces anxiety and helps them relax. Some participants were favorably influenced by the noise of the water and the beauty of the aquarium itself.
No one seems to doubt that if any animal can have a beneficial effect on the psyche, it is a dog. And these are not empty words: American researchers interviewed 201 people and concluded that having a dog at home is associated with lower rates of depression in women and single people.
If you have a pet, look to them for support, which can take many forms, whether petting, walking, playing or simply relaxing on the couch together. All this will positively affect your emotional state and at the same time please the animals, who will spend time with their beloved owner with pleasure.
Communication with animals normalizes blood pressure and improves sleep
Constant communication with animals can also have a positive effect on human cognitive abilities. This dependence was established by researchers from the University of Michigan, USA. For six years they watched 1369subjects, 32 percent of whom had pets for five years or more. It turned out that the cognitive abilities of pet owners declined more slowly and, in general, their scores were 1.2 points higher than those who did not have animals. Also, scientists were able to establish that communication with animals lowers blood pressure, and their owners are less prone to stress.
Sleeping with animals is also much more beneficial than being alone. Especially people who suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder. According to sleep specialist Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, going to bed with your pets increases feelings of comfort and reduces anxiety.
Another argument in favor of trying to sleep with pets comes from a survey conducted by physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. It was attended by 150 patients experiencing varying degrees of severity of sleep problems. 41 percent of respondents noted that they feel more secure and sleep better next to their pets. This, among other things, was facilitated by the relaxing and lulling cat's purr.
However, cat owners should not forget that these animals are especially active at night. Therefore, it is better to leave the bedroom door ajar so that the cat can leave the room whenever he wants.
Walking the dog will have a therapeutic effect
Cynologist Agata Krainova compares walking the dog with an EMDR therapy session. This method of psychotherapy was developed by the American psychologist Francine Shapiro for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. The essence of the method lies in the fact that a person can influence the work of certain brain structures by moving his gaze from side to side and thinking about the events that caused stress, and, as it were, re-recording the traumatic situation in memory, making memories of it less painful.
While walking the dog, we involuntarily make such movements with our eyes, just to orient ourselves in the environment, says Krainova. It turns out that we, just walking with a pet and thinking about unpleasant events, without knowing it, reduce the level of stress in our body. That is why, in especially difficult and anxious periods, one should not forget about regular walks: in addition to the fact that they help to change the situation and ventilate, the effect of them is in many ways similar to the feeling after a therapy session.
Pet care gives inner support
Regular pet care stabilizes the owner's inner state, experts say. The secret is in the set of rituals that pet owners, regardless of their species, perform on a daily basis.
“Conscientious dog owners, for example, walk their pets several times a day, ideally at the same time, feed according to a schedule, and so on. That is why, no matter what happens in a person’s personal, social and political life, there will still be at least one aspect in his life that is not (or, at least, should not be) influenced from the outside, ”explains George, veterinary student at the University of Cambridge, owner of a dog.
This provides the owners with relief from stress: when the stability of the usual life is disturbed and there is less and less confidence in the future, there remains responsibility for the pet and orderliness, which reminds that life goes on. “Besides, walking the dog, playing with the cat, or watching aquarium fish can simply take your mind off the endless monitoring of news, which are rarely positive lately,” Georgy notes.
Animals support us also because we become attached to them, and this connection serves as a reliable support in difficult times. Dog owners are especially strong affection. This is because dogs require more human input than cats: dogs need regular walks, companionship, and training.
Animals make children kinder and healthier
Practicing veterinarians confirm that pet owners do indeed look more relaxed. “I notice that the pet owners who come to the appointment have a much calmer and anxiety-free voice than my acquaintances who do not have pets,” writes veterinary neurosurgeon Imran Younsi.
It has long been noticed that when a person pets an animal, the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in his body decreases, while the level of oxytocin (love hormone), on the contrary, increases. As a result, people become more relaxed and happier.
Junsi also reminds that pets are good for children. If a child is in contact with animals from an early age, he develops such qualities as compassion, respect for others, kindness and trust in the world around him.
It is not uncommon for parents to try to keep their children away from animals in order to protect them from germs and infections. However, contact with dogs and cats, according to a study, can prevent a child from developing asthma and allergies. In particular, the presence of animals in the house can reduce the sensitivity of children to wool, dust mites and pollen from flowering plants. At the same time, it is important that pets are next to the child from the first months of his life.
“I think that pets at home are a huge plus and I hope that in the future they will be kept and cared for in offices, cafes and other public places, as this reduces stress levels for both employees and guests” , says the neurosurgeon.
If it is not possible to have a pet, visit the shelter
You can communicate with dogs and cats in municipal and private shelters. In the shelter, you can choose the animal with which you want to walk around the surrounding area. Visiting the shelter does not oblige you to take your pet with you. Not everyone has the opportunity to keep an animal at home, and shelter owners treat this with understanding.
On the other hand, if you fell in love with a cat or dog, you can take them into care
It is better to come to the shelter by registering in advance. To do this, you need to go to the shelter website, find the contacts of volunteers, write to them and arrange a visit. Animal shelter cards are available on special services. For example, here you can find the closest shelter to you in Moscow and the Moscow region.
Cat cafes allow you to combine business with pleasure. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of such institutions in Russia, and not only in large cities, but also in small towns. Cat cafes are usually occupied by cats who are looking for a home. It has a menu of food and drinks, just like a normal catering establishment, but there are four-legged animals nearby that you can stroke and play with.