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Dogs (And Other Animals) And Mental Health

There is no denying that people and animals have had incredible bonds. From horses and chickens to cats and dogs - we love them, we love to take care of them, and we love what get back. There has been a lot of research about the correlation between dogs (and other animals) and mental health. Which is hardly surprising when you consider that 95% of pet owners consider their pet as a member of their family.

It has been shown on many occasions that dogs can help with stress, depression, anxiety and even high blood pressure. And, even better is that they ease loneliness and provide unconditional love.


Dogs (And Other Animals) And Mental Health
Photo: Eric Ward, Unsplash


Here are just a few ways that animals help humans.


Stress

Studies around dogs and mental health have shown that simply playing with or petting a dog reduces stress-related hormones. In fact, all it takes is around 5 minutes of snuggling or playing to feel the effects. And the same can be said for anxiety sufferers.

Petting or playing with dogs and cats raise our serotonin and dopamine levels. Both of which calm and relax us, and combat rising levels of cortisol.

So, in other words, playing with your dog = happiness hormones.


They Need Us

That is one of the beautiful things about pets, they teach you to give without expecting anything in return. You keep them warm and well-fed, make sure they have toys and snuggles. You walk them daily and even have conversations with them. Taking care of something, in this case, your curry best buddy gives us a sense of purpose that is pretty deep.

Even if it is the type of pet that can’t really play or interact with their owners, like fish or terrapins. Doing good for others reduces depression and loneliness.


Self-Esteem

Something that might be surprising is that when you find a dog that works with you and your lifestyle, your self-esteem will rise. The American Psychological Association publish results that showed the following of pet owners:
  • More extroverted
  • Less fearful
  • Less lonely
  • More physically fit
  • Better self-esteem
  • More thoughtful and less preoccupied

The first study was done with 217 people. They were asked about their personality type, well-being and attachment type. All of the pet owners gave more positive results - they were happier, better adjusted and healthier.


Mindfulness

Dogs and cats are at the moment. They aren’t worried about the food they knocked over last week, and they don’t care about the rain tomorrow. They are the epitome of being in the moment, and when you are interacting with them, you are there too. Pets can help teens put down their worries for a while, and simply ‘be’. Pets can help teenagers who might be dealing with a lot of stress, put it to one side and remember what it is like to be carefree again.


Personality

The wonderful thing about dogs specifically, is that there are so many different breeds you are almost guaranteed to find one that works with you. And, if you love the unusual and beautiful, then you can check out Goldendoodle breeders. Ideally, you should pick a dog that has the activity levels that match you, or if you are looking to increase your time outdoors - get one who will demand more from you.


Therapy

It is essential to talk about animal-assisted therapy. This is beyond your normal family pet in most circumstances. Animal-assisted therapy had become an integral part of mental health treatment. There is even more benefit to be had from owning a mental health support animal and having it registered as an emotional support animal. Typically this will be a dog, although it is possible with other animals too.


Childhood Anxiety

Children have a lot more stressors than we may think. From school pressure with exams, grades, and friendships to home stress. And sometimes it can be overwhelming. Dogs are particularly fantastic at letting a child unwind. The child can lay down and talk to the dog, stroke them and get a rush of all of those significant hormones that make them feel calm and relaxed. And when they have pent up emotions and energy, you can bet your bottom dollar the pooch will be more than happy to play or go for a walk.


Healthy Habits

Your pet will need you to do certain things each day. And no matter how you are feeling, you will get up and make sure that they are taken care of. Which is incredibly powerful when you are feeling like you can’t get dressed.

Going for a walk - While you probably do have the option to let your dog out into the garden, you both know a walk I going to be better for you. So more often than not, you will build in this super healthy habit.

Getting up - getting up can be a challenging task when you just feel heavy. Your pet still needs you, and while they are perfectly happy to snuggle with you, they will still need to be fed, watered and walked. And luckily, most dogs are morning people - and can balance out you not being one.


Love

Your pet will love you unconditionally. They will love you when you are hurt, sad, angry, lost and alone. They will love you at your best, just the same. They want to spend time with you no matter what you are doing, and who you are with. Sure, sometimes they need some boundaries, but for the most part, they are so in love with you, it is hard to not let them boop you on the nose to wake you up for breakfast at 6am.

The research into pets and mental health shows us that there are so many positive for people to keep a pet in their home. And they have benefited from childhood all the way to the elderly. Humans and animals have an affinity, and if you don’t already have your best friend, then it might just be time for you to find them.

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Bloom Magazine: Dogs (And Other Animals) And Mental Health
Dogs (And Other Animals) And Mental Health
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