What could be the mental health benefits of owning a companion pet?
Written by Chris Bark
We all love to laugh, and our pets are often a fantastic source of amusement. Who doesn't love to watch puppy videos online? Owning a pet is for many heartwarming and a delight.
Many benefits of pet ownership extended beyond just entertainment (and taking the cutest photos!)
Companion pets provide cuddles and exercise, as well as companionship and someone to vent to. Owning a dog or cat gives many owners mental health benefits they may not be expecting.
Studies have shown that interacting with animals decreases the stress hormone Cortisol and even lowers blood pressure. Some studies have also demonstrated that a companion animal can reduce loneliness and provide a significant mood boost. (University of Sydney, 2019)
So what are the health benefits of companion pets?
We can all guess the immediate benefits and feel-good parts of owning a pet. They are cute and fun! However, it is the longer-term benefits that really boost the role pets play in benefitting our overall health.
Companion animals such as dogs and cats are highly in tune with how their owners are feeling. Our animals can read our emotions! Many pets will know when we need comfort and curl up next to us and offer support. Sitting and petting a dog is, for many, a great way to unwind and de-stress.
Owning a dog, in particular, will give the benefit of incidental exercise. Almost every dog will need to walk or have some active play every day. The added bonus to tiring out our pets is that we owners get some unexpected cardiovascular exercise! Even moderate walking has an impact on overall health and can impact our mental wellbeing.
Owning a dog makes you lose weight. Plenty of studies have found that dog ownership is associated with weight loss. The studies have found that even light dog walking sees weight loss without any other change to diet or lifestyle. (University of Missouri-Columbia 2010)
Get out there and play fetch!
More benefits than just exercise
Dogs also provide an avenue for meeting new people and positive social interactions. For some, the chance to meet new people or have relaxed positive (even if brief) social interactions are limited. On walks, in the dog park, at agility or nose work training, or even the pet store - there are multiple opportunities for interaction. Complete strangers love a friendly chat about your dog!
Another critical benefit of pet ownership is structure and routine. Dogs and cats will have feeding, toilet, and exercise regimes that need to be stuck to. Many people are time-poor in the modern world, have busy family lives, or an unpredictable schedules. Even when all else is hitting the fan, having a consistent and straightforward task (feed the happy puppy) is excellent.
For some owners who need motivation – the routine pet schedule gets them started in the morning. For others, knowing that no matter what happens that day, their cat will be ecstatic for an evening meal that provides a nice extra touch of stability.
Mental health benefits to children who have pets
Playing with a dog or cat is relaxing. It can distract from or reduce anxiety for many people of all ages.
Having a furry friend who will provide unquestioning life and support (and face licks) is also a benefit many parents notice when their child has a pet. A friend who does not bully, tease, or provide negative feedback and is always there for you. Sounds pretty great, right?
Responsibility for feeding or specific pet-related tasks can also be of benefit to the development of some children. All kids are different, but do you think there is a way your own would benefit from having a pet? Would looking after an animal increase their sense of pride and independence? For many, the results of childhood pet ownership are incredibly positive.
How to pick a companion pet?
Most people choose dogs and cats as companion pets. But sheep, snakes, birds, and hamsters are popular too! Picking a companion pet, hoping it will positively impact your mental health (or a family member), requires you to consider the following three questions.
- Do you have the time to train the young pet?
- Are you okay with the ongoing costs?
- Are there any allergies in your household?
Cost-wise you need to remember that a common companion animal like a dog or a cat will incur significant ongoing expenses. Food, Veterinarian, and also equipment and perhaps insurance will all continue to cost. Are you prepared for this side of pet companionship?
Time-wise, you need to remember that adult companion animals often are perfectly happy hanging around with you at home. They will still need some form of daily exercise AND early training.
For example, potential training a puppy can be intense and will require an attentive carer who is not away for more than a few hours initially. Daily exercise or playtime is also important to remember and consider in advance of adopting a companion pet.
Finally, you need to consider the physical health impacts of pet ownership. Specifically, are there any allergies to dogs or cats in your household? Test first, so you don't regret it later.
If you are after a low shedding and lower allergy-inducing dog, there are plenty of options. Consider a Poodle cross like the very popular Labradoodle or Cavoodle. Know that sometimes these dogs can still trigger allergies, so spending time with a puppy before adopting is strongly recommended.
- Companion dog acquisition and mental wellbeing – University of Sydney 2019
- Dog walking and weight loss 2010 - College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia
Getting a Pet for Mental Getting a Pet for Mental