The Positive Impact of Companion Animals on Mental Health

When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, many of us utilize different strategies and techniques to take care of ourselves; these methods range greatly from meditation, to exercise, to crafts, to journaling. One often overlooked boost to an individual’s mental health may be right under your nose—or, in some cases, sitting curled up right under your desk. The benefit your pet provides for your mental health is often overlooked.

Whether you have a diagnosed mental health condition, are suffering from burnout, or are simply exhausted by the day-to-day hustle of life, we all benefit from a support structure.

Some of us may rely on family or spouses, others on professionals, and a large amount of us rely on our four legged friends. A 2016 study published in BMC Psychiatry evaluated the self management of those with mental health conditions and the role pets play in the process. In this study, recruited individuals were asked to map out their personal networks as they considered the factors important to managing their mental health. Many companion animals were considered to be members of the most valuable support network. They aided their owners in managing feelings and navigating upsetting experiences and encouraged them to engage in activities in which they would have otherwise been reluctant to participate.

Numerous studies have concluded that pets positively impact an individual’s quality of life. Some studies have shown not only mental,
but also physical benefits to pet ownership such as decreased heart rate and blood pressure. A 2007 study found that those with pets
exercised more, slept better, and attended less health appointments. A 2020 study published in Aging and Mental Health found that pet
ownership has a positive impact on the mental health of older adults by increasing resilience against mental health disorders and providing a
sense of purpose and meaning.

Animal-assisted therapy utilizes the positive impact of animals as part of the treatment process. Although usages vary, animal-assisted
therapy has been used to reduce the negative impacts of prolonged hospital stays, to provide stress relief on college campuses, and even to
aid in communicative disorders. Animal-assisted therapy sessions have been found to result in acute stress reduction for those with autism spectrum disorder, to reduce anxiety in those afflicted, and to assuage hypervigilance in veterans impacted by post-traumatic stress
disorder. In some cases, animal assisted therapy may be utilized in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy, and traditional therapists may at times partner with animal-assisted therapy programs.

Pets can provide a sense of companionship and unconditional love that assuages feelings of loneliness in pet owners. A pet’s impact on self-esteem can be greatly beneficial. Those who do not own companion animals can still benefit from their positive impact on mental health by pursuing animal-assisted therapy. Ultimately, the benefits our furry companions provide us are invaluable, and we should be sure to cherish every moment with them.


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