The Benefits of Having a Pet – A Mental Health Focus

The Benefits of Having a Pet

In my line of work as a counsellor, I hear a lot of sad circumstances –  suicidal teens, teens who self harm as  a way of coping, break ups among many other issues – all with one thing in common – hard to sit with feelings. No matter what the circumstances, the value of having a pet to confide in or simply cuddle, can be the one thing that keeps one going. This is known as a protective factor – one thing that can help get us through a difficult time. Here we discuss the benefits of having a pet to support us hoomans.

Have you ever had a pet? What was your experience with having a pet to chat/confide/console with?

If you’re anything like us here in Brisbane our family adores our furbaby Lacey. She’s a staffie mixed with something else, no idea what.  We were given her by a family member who could no longer keep her, so we took her in and she’s adjusted really well. The kids have welcomed her so easily with open hearts.

Over the months of having our beloved Lacey, I have noticed just how much she’s grown on us.  She’s not the prettiest of pups, she’s not one of those lap dogs, or cutsie dogs, but somehow she’s in our hearts all the same. What is it that makes her so valuable to us that have us caring for her so willingly and open heartedly? Dogs have a tendency to be loyal to those who treat them well. They also are affectionate naturally. They have so much love to give, so when they are treated well, they are happy and the bond grows.

Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of having a pet.

Types of Pets

the benefits of having a pet

The types of pets that people can have are so numerous. Each one has meaning to the owner. It really just depends on which animal you can afford, are drawn to, not allergic to or have preference for. The obvious ones are dogs and cats. Other options include guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, rats (gross, but some like them), birds, lizards, axolotl, pigs, horses, goats and many more. We are all unique individuals, so it’s important you choose what is right for you.

Protective Factor

One thing that I really value about pets is their protective factor for us humans. Although they can protect us from physical harm and threats, they can also protect us from ourselves. I’m talking about the value of having a pet to look after that makes us feel connected with them. Especially when we feel down, lonely, sad or any of the wide range of feelings us humans are prone to during hard times.

Your Pet gives you Unconditional Love

How many times have you cried and hugged your pet and told them what was going on? Or let them know you’re having a bad day. What do they usually do? They don’t get all judgy or criticize you do they now?  No they sit with you and show you they care during these times. Some say they even pick up on your sad vibes and share their love as a way to help you feel better. They aren’t judgemental, don’t tell you anything nasty, they simply sit with you and support you in the silence. Maybe even with a snuggle too.

Reduces Stress Levels

the benefits of having a pet

Having a pet to be with also reduces your stress levels and blood pressure. One study demonstrated the effects of pet ownership lowered blood pressure response to mental stress.

Even watching fish swim around can lead to reduction of stress. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline have been shown to reduce when measured with those who are with their pets. Pets can also sense increases in cortisol in their owners and can respond in a calm way to support and help with reducing those levels through their connection. This can also help you to relax in the presence of your dog. Cat’s too can have a similar effect when a bond has been established between owner and cat.

Pets Improve Our Mental Health

Dogs have been shown to be the best pet for improving one’s mental health. If you can’t own a dog on your own for whatever reason, spend some time with a friend’s dog, offer to walk their dog, or maybe even do some volunteer work for an animal rescue centre, foster a dog or find out where your local pet therapy centre is. Chances are, this will help you get out into the community and fresh air and help motivate you to do something you wouldn’t usually do. This in itself can improve your mental health.

the benefits of having a pet

When experiencing challenging mental health issues, it can be easy to give up on life when you’re really struggling. When you’ve got a pet to look after however, you know that you can’t leave your pet to fend for itself. Plus your pet needs you too, because of the bond you’ve developed. Do you think they would miss you if you weren’t around?

Having a pet to hold, look after, be by your side also releases happy hormones. These hormones are released when we look at baby photos both of the human and animal kind. So it gives you another reason to have a pet to look after.

Practice Mindfulness with Your Pet

Other ways having a pet can improve your mental health is through distraction of your thoughts. When we focus on our pet, we distract ourselves from our negative thoughts that contribute to our mental health. It’s also possible to practice mindfulness with your pet.

Here’s how:

  • Simply be with your pet.
  • Slow your breathing down.
  • Now become consciously aware of your thoughts.
  • Don’t judge them, just notice them, acknowledge their presence.
  • Allow them to flow and move to the next thought without judging them as being bad or good.
  • Keep breathing slowly.
  • Take your time and be kind to yourself while you practice this process.

Grounding with Pets

Here’s how you can practice grounding with your pet….Notice how your pet feels when you touch it, what is the texture of it’s coat, soft or rough? What is temperature of your pet? Notice how warm or cool it is. Notice how it’s breathing, is it fast paces after a run around, or slower?

When you notice a thought while you do this activity, simply notice it and thank it for being there. Don’t judge it for being a good or bad thought, simply notice.  Keep noticing your pet’s features, colours, texture, sounds, movements. This is one way you can connect with the present moment through grounding with your pet and bring yourself into the present moment.

Now notice how you feel since from doing the above activity.

You Have Responsibility

Something that goes with having a pet however is responsibility. So even though you have a pet, when you’re having a hard time, it can be difficult to know how to manage the behaviours of your pet. Having a pet misbehave is only going to increase your stress, and possibly exacerbate your mental health if you don’t feel like you can manage their behaviours. But don’t let this deter you from getting a pet. I think it’s actually a very valuable investment in yourself if you can afford to keep a pet and any upkeep or vet bills.

If you are having a hard time managing your dog or puppy, I recommend you look into a high quality training program, one that values your dog, is gentle too and doesn’t rely on harsh training techniques. This is a very important factor to consider when thinking about a training program, as your furbaby is your responsibility, they rely on you for having their needs met, so it’s up to you to provide them with appropriate, gentle and effective training so the two of you can support each other on this journey of life.

Ensuring their food is of high quality will help you support them in optimal condition. I recommend you provide your dog with a low carb diet as this is their natural nutritional requirements. 

Final Thoughts

I hope I have been able to give you some ideas of the benefits of having a pet can help you feel more relaxed, less stressed and be present with your pet. No matter what you’re going through they are your companion and can act as a protective factor to make sure you stay safe and grounded.

Has your pet helped you with some tough times?

I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments below.