Dog helps with depression

How Dogs Can Help with Depression

FEB. 02, 2018

By Greer Grenley


Depression is a widespread issue in the U.S. affecting about 40 million adults. Fortunately, there are many ways to feel better. Talking to a licensed psychiatrist can make a huge difference and there are so many effective medications out there. Exercise and healthy eating can help too, as can opening up to and spending more time with family members, close friends and pets. In fact: Did you know that dogs can play an integral part in your emotional well-being?

Dogs can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health. For example, people with dogs have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease—just playing with dogs has been shown to elevate oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.

For someone living with depression, there is so much to gain from having a dog. Here are just a few of the many benefits.


Pets help you lead a healthy lifestyle. Dogs need exercise, which means you’ll be exercising right along with them! Exercise increases endorphins, which fight depression. Because dogs need consistency, you’ll learn how to make exercise a daily routine instead of a once-in-a-while activity. Research has shown that consistency in one’s schedule can help reduce stress levels and lead to better sleep patterns and overall health.


Dogs give you a reason to talk to new people while on walks or at the dog park, which can alleviate the loneliness you might feel in a depressive episode. Socialization with others, especially face-to-face, has been shown to ease symptoms of depression. This is especially true for people aged 50 years or older.  

Having a companion can also prevent depression from worsening, especially therapy and service dogs who are constantly in tune to your needs. Caring for an animal gives you purpose, makes you feel wanted and helps take focus away from your depression.


Dogs can be a lot to handle, but research shows that responsibility helps your mental health. Some psychologists say that you build self-esteem by taking ownership and applying skills to a specific task. Taking care of a dog offers reassurance that you can care for another creature and for yourself.

If you love dogs but can’t commit to or afford one, try dog-sitting! Sites and apps like allow you to do everything from short walks and check-ins to daycare and dog boarding. It’s worth a try. Because not only can dogs make you feel better, but the responsibilities entailed in the human-canine relationship can provide important structural and social benefits that lessen the burden of depression.

Dogs bring happiness into your life, and depression is often no match for the unconditional love they provide.


Greer Grenley is a part-time dog writer and full-time dog lover. She lives in Seattle where she can be seen out-and-about with her Aussiedoodle, George.

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

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SAMHSA’s National Helpline | SAMHSA

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  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Also visit the online treatment locator.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

The service is open 24/7, 365 days a year.

English and Spanish are available if you select the option to speak with a national representative. Currently, the 435748 (HELP4U) text messaging service is only available in English.

In 2020, the Helpline received 833,598 calls. This is a 27 percent increase from 2019, when the Helpline received a total of 656,953 calls for the year.

The referral service is free of charge. If you have no insurance or are underinsured, we will refer you to your state office, which is responsible for state-funded treatment programs. In addition, we can often refer you to facilities that charge on a sliding fee scale or accept Medicare or Medicaid. If you have health insurance, you are encouraged to contact your insurer for a list of participating health care providers and facilities.

The service is confidential. We will not ask you for any personal information. We may ask for your zip code or other pertinent geographic information in order to track calls being routed to other offices or to accurately identify the local resources appropriate to your needs.

No, we do not provide counseling. Trained information specialists answer calls, transfer callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states, and connect them with local assistance and support.

  • Suggested Resources

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    It's Not Your Fault (NACoA) (PDF | 12 KB)
    Assures teens with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs that, "It's not your fault!" and that they are not alone. Encourages teens to seek emotional support from other adults, school counselors, and youth support groups such as Alateen, and provides a resource list.

    After an Attempt: A Guide for Taking Care of Your Family Member After Treatment in the Emergency Department
    Aids family members in coping with the aftermath of a relative's suicide attempt. Describes the emergency department treatment process, lists questions to ask about follow-up treatment, and describes how to reduce risk and ensure safety at home.

    Family Therapy Can Help: For People in Recovery From Mental Illness or Addiction
    Explores the role of family therapy in recovery from mental illness or substance abuse. Explains how family therapy sessions are run and who conducts them, describes a typical session, and provides information on its effectiveness in recovery.

    For additional resources, please visit the SAMHSA Store.

Last Updated: 08/30/2022

The sad truth about dogs and depression - Why does a person need a dog?

What a review of 30 studies on the effects of pets on depression showed.

According to popular belief, pets can alleviate many mental problems, including depression. However, this claim is usually based on "sensational" anecdotal studies. If you study the literature in more detail, contrary to expectations, the conclusions are disappointing.

There is a lot of research on pets and depression

Using Google Scholar, you can find more than 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals that have assessed the degree of depression in pet owners and people who have not had a pet. 15 studies were conducted in the United States, and most of the others were from Europe. Most of the research on the effects of pets on depression has focused on older adults, with 15 studies involving older people, 12 with adults of all ages, and 3 with young adults.

Most studies have shown that pet owners are no less susceptible to depression than non-pet owners.

  • 18 out of 30 studies showed no difference in depression between pet owners and non-pet owners in these groups;
  • 5 studies reported that pet owners were more likely to be depressed;
  • Several studies have produced mixed results. One study reported that unmarried women with pets were less depressed than their peers without a pet, but the opposite was true for men. A study 1999g found no difference in depression between gay and bisexual men, but HIV-positive males with a pet who had few friends had lower levels of depression.
  • Only 5 out of 30 studies found that pet owners experienced less depression than non-pet owners.

Sample size problem

Other things being equal, researchers tend to have more confidence in studies with large numbers of participants. A total of 117,233 participants were included in those 30 studies, ranging from 88 to 53,418 people. The 5 studies that found that pet owners were less likely to be depressed had significantly fewer participants on average (mean = 401 people) than the studies that found no difference in levels of depression (mean = 4683 people) or who found that pet owners were more depressed (mean = 4975 people). The 11 studies included more than 1,000 subjects, but none of these large studies found that pet owners were less likely to suffer from depression overall.

What about older pet owners?

Fifteen studies have focused on older people, but only one reported that older people with pets were less likely to suffer from depression. Nine studies found no difference in depression between pet owners and non-pet owners. And 4 of them found that pet owners were more prone to depression.

Can a pet reduce depression in some people?

There may be exceptions for some groups. Here are a few areas worth paying attention to.

  • Depression in young people. Two studies have shown that homeless children with pets have significantly lower levels of depression (here and here). In another study, children with positive attitudes towards pets had lower rates of depression and delinquency.
  • Social loss. A 2019 study found that older pet owners who were bereaved by the death of a spouse or divorce experienced less depression than non-pet owners.
  • Gender differences. It is possible that the influence of pets on depression may vary depending on the gender of the owner. A 2006 study, for example, found that unmarried women with pets were less depressed than those without a pet, but unmarried male pet owners had more severe symptoms of depression.
  • Attachment to pets. It can be assumed that people who are more attached to their pets are less likely to suffer from depression. However, the results are mixed. A 1989 study found that more attached owners tended to suffer more depression, but not disease. And this study reported that among single people, stronger attachment to animals was associated with greater depression.

Types of pet owners. It is possible, even likely, that some types of pet owners are more (or less) prone to depression than others. For example, researchers at Florida State University recently reported that women over 85 who live only with a cat are more likely to suffer from depression than other categories of older pet owners.

Why do pet owners suffer more from depression?

For unclear reasons, in 5 studies, pet owners were more depressed than non-pet owners. One possibility, of course, is coincidence. However, this is unlikely; three of these studies had more than 1000 participants. As is often the case with claims about the "impact of pets" on human well-being, we don't know the exact cause. It is possible that depressed people acquire a pet in the hope that their companion animal will alleviate their loneliness and depression. Researchers have also found that many pet owners become depressed due to the death or illness of a beloved pet.


  1. Most studies do not support the notion that pet ownership reduces depression.
  2. However, there are exceptions. These include homeless and street children, single women and people with AIDS, and people who have lost a partner. More research is needed in these areas.
  3. And contrary to popular belief that pets help fight depression, most scientific research has shown that a puppy, however cute, is usually not an effective substitute for a therapist or Prozac.

There are many reasons to have a pet, but treating depression is not one of them.

Source: Hal Herzog - The Sad Truth About Pet Ownership and Depression

how pets increase your productivity and reduce stress

A lot of people in the home office experience stress. Some employees note that the number of responsibilities they have increased, which upsets the balance between work and personal life. With the right organization of your home office, you can increase your productivity. As paradoxical as it may sound, one of the big benefits (and not barriers) of a home office is pets, which reduce stress levels.

T&P figured out how pets improve physical and emotional well-being and help you be less lonely and more productive.

It is not the first year that foreign companies bring pets to the workplace, developing a pet-friendly office culture. According to experts, this has a positive effect on both the emotional state of a person and his productivity. Two-thirds of employees in American companies believe that the presence of a pet improves the workflow. “It’s definitely good for a work environment to have a dog in the office,” says Professor Marie-Jose Enders, who studies animal-human relations at the Open University in England. Also, cortisol (stress hormone) levels drop when you pet a dog, but you also produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which makes you more relaxed and happy.” In addition to relieving stress and increasing productivity, pets can help you bond with colleagues and partners and strengthen emotional bonds with them online. Psychologist Lotte Spiikerman says: “If your potential business partner is like you because, for example, he has a dog, it will be easier to make a deal.

Analytics 49 studies on pet therapy confirm the positive emotional impact of animals on people who have mental disorders, suffer from depression. Dog owners also recover faster from heart attacks.

Some people have experienced an increased release of endorphins and dopamines as little as five minutes after contact with an animal.

Simply observing the aquarium for 30 minutes will significantly reduce the pressure. It can have a stronger effect than meditation techniques

In a German study, scientists collected information from 9,000 owners of various pets (dogs, cats, horses, fish, birds) and found that these people went to the doctor several times less often than those who did not have pets.

In self-isolation, animals help to cope with anxiety and stress. Increased feelings of loneliness, apathy have serious consequences for mental health. This will have to be fought even after the end of the pandemic. People become more vulnerable, the immune system is weakened, and this increases the risk of diseases.

Maria Alipova, Leading Psychologist, Center for Psychological Counseling, National Research University Higher School of Economics:

In the presence of animals, we certainly don't feel lonely like that. Moreover, we act strong in relation to the creature that needs to be taken care of, we are responsible. And at some point, this awareness will help us cope with difficulties

When working in home office mode, many people experience a decrease in productivity due to many distractions. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner advises putting so-called buffer time into your schedule and giving yourself the opportunity to rest and switch. Such a relaxing activity can be a walk with a dog or just playing with a pet, as well as taking care of it.

Follow the daily routine

The dog helps to regulate the routine and get up in the morning for a walk and end the working day also with a walk. So, by the beginning of work, you will already be on the street and will feel more cheerful. In the conditions of remote interaction, the pet will help you in relationships with colleagues or simply cheer them up by becoming a participant in the Zoom conference.

In conditions of remote work, the balance between work and personal affairs is disturbed. You are constantly in front of the laptop and cannot effectively allocate time and effort. Many advise imitating the environment of an ordinary office, determining the exact workspace, time, taking a break for lunch, a walk, organizing access to familiar office systems and technologies, especially since this can be done in just one day. A pet will also allow you to partially restore this balance. Determine what hours you will walk with him or just play.


Inverse-Square employees said it helps them enjoy long hours of work and the pets remind them to take necessary breaks. “When we come into tactile contact with any animal, we produce oxytocin, we calm down, rejoice, feel much better and get distracted from complex work tasks,” explains Maria Alipova.

Reduce stress and be more productive

“Animals reduce stress and increase productivity mainly because they interact with you of their own free will, and when they come to your workstation they are a good reminder that you need break,” explains American behavioral psychologist Lotte Spijkerman. Miki Giurescu, a clinical psychologist from the USA, told how a pet helps her to be more productive: “I literally felt an invisible barrier around me that protected me from stress. I felt freer from stress and happier. The surge of energy allowed me to be more productive. I noticed that I complete more tasks, I think more clearly.”

Oksana Trofimova, Head of Integrated Communications Department, Beeline:

For three years now I have been able to work remotely once a week thanks to our BeeFree technology. On office days, I rush home in the evenings, as Black waits the whole day for his prescribed three or four kilometers - I will not hide that we are both waiting for this ritual :).

In the current situation, the pet has maximum positive and happiness. When the owners work from home, he has a lot of walks, and we have the opportunity to switch from work.

In breaks we go for quick walks, sometimes I even hold conferences in the fresh air. Of course, now I solve more problems than in office mode - both by saving time and by emotional comfort, the dog helps a lot in this :). It defuses the situation, just lies nearby, cheers when you need it. Now you definitely don’t have to worry that he is sad without me for days on end.

According to Maria Alipova, animals can also be a distraction, but most likely they will not bother you without a reason. “If a person, in principle, is inclined to be distracted, then he will do it without an animal. In this case, they are not the main reason, it all depends on the ability to concentrate, ”explains the expert.

Increase physical activity

There are special yoga practices that you can do with your pet. This is a physical activity that stimulates the mind and also allows the animal to release energy. Extra activity helps not to gain excess weight. For example, 20 million owners who walk their dogs five times a week have lower levels of obesity. The American Heart Association notes that among dog owners, 54% more are those who exercise two and a half hours a day - this is the time recommended by doctors to maintain mental health as well.

The @DogsWorkingFromHome profile has become popular on Instagram. “I just took advantage of the fact that my dogs are at my feet. I thought we all need some happiness right now,” says Mark Polchleb, Melbourne-based brand manager and profile creator. "I think we've all tried to type on the keyboard while the dog is pressing its head into your hands," he says. The account contains photos of various pets, the only rule is that they must be at home. “Obviously now is the time we encourage people to stay at home and indoors. We had people who sent dogs to cafes, I refused,” Mark explains.

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