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.

 

32 Replies to “The Benefits of Having a Pet – A Mental Health Focus”

  1. My pets, current and past, dogs and cats, have definitely helped me through rough times. Feeling their furry, warm bodies is so soothing and a cat’s purr has got to be one of the best sounds in the world. It’s also nice, as a single person, to have someone to come home to, furry variety included.

    1. Hi Joey, thanks for sharing. Yes, the sound of a purring cat is very soothing. Pets do make awesome companions and great social connections especially for singles. ~kat

  2. Thanks Kat for the super informative article. I had no idea having a pet had so many benefits.
    I had a dog growing up and loved her to bits. So much so that when she died I decided never to have a pet again just to avoid the heartbreak. Maybe its time I grow up and get another one :).
    Cheers,
    Joshi

    1. Hi Joshi, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m so sorry you went through so much heartbreak when you lost your beloved furbaby. It’s something that we all usually go through when we bring a pet into our lives. They can offer so much for us, while we offer them so much in return, that working through that inevitable grief is also a healthy process for us humans to experience. There’s something to be said about acceptance and drawing on memories that are shared when we welcome a pet into our world. If you do decide on a pet, come back and let us know and if it helps you with your well being. Thanks for visiting, all the best :).

  3. Hi Kat, thanks for sharing. I always wanted to have a dog, unfortunately my flat is not big enough. But every time I meet with my friends who have a lovely golden retriever I have so much fan with playing with him.

    1. Hi and thanks for leaving a comment. Even though you can’t have a pet currently, it sounds like you still get the benefits of your friend’s dog and get a lot of enjoyment out of playing with his retriever. They’re such majestic animals, so it would be easy to play with him lol! All the best.

  4. Hi, Kathleen, I have two cats that I play with every day when I get back from a long day’s work. They always wait for me by the garage door and I thought only dogs do that but I notice that cats do that too. These are my daughter’s cats and she said that they are timid cats so it will take a while for them to get used to me.

    After one week the cats were waiting for me and even surprised my daughter that they would be so fond of me so quickly. Pets do make you feel better after playing with them, they make me take the day away and ready for another. Thanks for the post now I know why my stress has been better.

    1. Hi Kelyee, thanks for stopping by. Wow after only one week your cats have become so happy that you’re home! You might be a cat whisperer lol! That’s beautiful to hear that they are so fond of you so quickly. They sure do have the effect of being able to let the day go and leave it in the past as you get ready for a new day. It certainly does sound like you’re enjoying the benefits of pet ownership on your well being. Thanks heaps for sharing.

  5. Hi, Kathleen.

    First of all, I want to point out what a wonderful website you have. YThank you for dedicating it to our furry companions. They deserve way more recognition and attention within our hectic world. I have two cats, and they are pure bundles of love and joy. They helped me immensely after the unexpected passing of my sister.

    I don’t think I could have done it without them. I love the part where you talk about grounding with your pets. It is true. I started doing it during my times of mourning, too. It really brought me into the present moment, calmed me and gave me a sense of deep gratitude and reassurance that everything will be alright.

    Again, thank you so much for sharing these wonderful insights with the rest of the world.
    I’m sending you lots of love and many blessings.

    Warm regards,

    Keryn

    1. Hi Keryn, such sweet sentiments, thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I’m so sorry for your loss of your sister. That would have been such a hard time for you and the family. It sounds like it was such an unexpected event in your life, and having your cats ensured you got through such a difficult time. It sounds like your own connection with your pets has helped you intuitively connect with them when you needed to, as I’m sure they knew you needed the time with them too. I’m glad they were there for you, and continue to be I’m sure. Many blessings to you too Keryn, and thanks again for your touching words. Much appreciated.

  6. Hi Kathleen, lovely post about pets being a comfort to people. I think most people who have had a pet would admit to talking to them when they are feeling stressed, angry etc…
    A pet will always give you love, especially dogs, who are always glad to see you when you enter the room. If only humans were like that:)
    Thanks for a great post.
    Frank

    1. Hi Frank, thanks for sharing. Yes, I agree, it would be great if humans could learn the simplicity of acceptance and genuine joy of seeing each other. That would certainly have a positive effect on the world. I always love how affectionate animals are. I love how they can show love without judgement and with pure joy just for seeing us. We’re fortunate to have them in our lives :). All the best.

  7. My current house pet is a rescue cat that I did not ask for. A friend died and no one wanted the cat so I took it in. When you bond with a pet both of you will benefit. My cat keeps me grounded during the day when I am home alone while others are out working or going to school.
    The companionship of any pet will change the way you think and act during the day, you have responsibilities and you will have to meet different needs of your pet when they cannot take care of things themselves. From finding their favorite toy to keeping up with food and water, they is always something to think about. As an older person who does not leave the home a lot, my cat give me a companion that does not complain much.
    I think you can help your pet through a tough time also. They do have feeling also, don’t you think.
    John

    1. Hi John, thanks for stopping by. It sounds like your cat has been able to get you into a routine while also keep you company. Yes, I agree, we provide our pets with emotional support and warmth, as they have feelings too. I often see my dog’s smile on her face when she’s around us and is content. It’s a beautiful sight to see. Pets make amazing companions for those who don’t get out often, they certainly have a positive effect on our every day well being :). All the best mate.

  8. Thank you, as an animal lover this post touched my heart.

    I have pet snails, Giant African land snails. Because of allergies, and they are very easy and cheap to look after. They are also quite affectionate, which you might find hard to believe! They love sitting on my palm. My snails have indeed helped me through hard times. They are always happy when I give them a bath and some affection. They recognize me and greet me in their own way. Even just watching their calm movements in their tank is soothing.

    1. Hi Kristi, thanks heaps for sharing! It’s great to hear from a snail owner and to have you confirm the connection you have too! I can imagine how soothing and calming it would be to watch them. I had pet snails when I was a kid, I probably didn’t look after them the right way, but I did adore them and did my best lol! I love that you are in tune with them and can recognise their responses to you and your gentleness with them and how they help you through tough times with a positive effect on your emotions too. I’m sure they are very happy with you too :).

  9. I struggle with mental health on the constant it feels. Though since I got my two fur babies, they’ve helped me improve bit by bit. I still struggle, as it isn’t something that just goes away, but my cats ground me. They give me a sense of purpose and responsibility to get me going each morning. They are great at sensing emotions and so when I need a cuddle cause I’m feeling down, there they are to pick me up again. For me, pet cats are great because they provide so many positive perspectives, but also they are not too high maintenance, which is a tough spot for me as daily tasks can seem like a big stretch some days, so the simpler the better in that regard

    1. hi Kaitlyn, thanks for sharing your experience with your fur babies and how they help ground you and help you feel better. It’s great that they’re there for you as you are for them. Keep connecting with your precious pets as they have a lot of love to give and help you when you need it. Blessings ~kat

  10. Hi! I have enjoyed your post very much! We have been deciding if it’s appropriate to bring a pet into the family or not. Up to this point the only pet we have had is a little parrot, but it was only for about 6 months.

    I also liked you mentioned the types of pets most people have at home. We’re thinking in a puppy this time. Your post has encouraged us to vote in favor of the idea.

    1. That’s wonderful to hear that you’re leaning towards bringing a pet into the home.  They definitely have more value in our lives than people realise. Enjoy your pet when you do bring them into your world. They can have challenges as they settle in, but once you all have developed a bond you will be able to enjoy their presence in your lives. 

  11. Hello, kat,
    I think most of the people keep pets just they love to have a pet. But your post is really from a different point of view. Really you show benefit of having a pet in a different way. I didn’t even think in this way and I think many of us don’t. You are really helping us with an easy way of solving our big problem.

    1. Thanks for this Abkorm. I didn’t realise people didn’t see their pets this way lol! I do hope having this perspective can also mean you and my readers have an extra way of coping at times when life is more challenging than usual. All the best ~kat

  12. When I first moved back to Wales, after I had finished my studies in Europe, I was single and I decided to rescue a kitten as I had a lot of room (for one person) in my home. Turned out to be a really special relationship. 

    Unfortunately I lost him a mere 10 days after I got engaged to my wife – I lived next to a road where the drivers were less than considerate. I have many happy memories of that male cat, but I could never face getting another pet due to the pain I felt (and guilt) when he died. 

    I suppose that’s the double-edged blade you get with pets…

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like you had developed a beautiful bond with your cat and it’s really been tough losing him when you did. Even though you both had such a beautiful bond and shared so many lovely memories, you still feel sadness at his loss. These feelings are part of being human which also means we have feelings of loss when we no longer have our fur babies around. It’s okay to feel sad. These are very normal feelings. Warm heart hugs ~kat

  13. I love having a pet, taking care of my dog is something that I really love doing. I never knew that she could help me in any kind of way. I like playing with her for sure and training her to understand me. It was when I lost a close relative, became depressed that I realize the importance of having her around. Some days I couldn’t wake up or do anything really but she was always on my bed and stay with me. She will make some sounds when she is hungry, so I had to feed her. And just the act of me worried about her well being, gave me a reason to fight and be better.

    I will always advise people to have a pet. I also agree with your that having a pet improves our mental health. The bond that we share with a pet can be what keeps us going.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your experience with your pet and how it helped you during a difficult time and how it continues to help to continue going. It’s great that you can recognise this and find her helping you through tough times. It also sounds like she has been in tune with how you feel so made sure she was with you as much as you needed her to be there, beautiful! ~kat

  14. Hi, Kat.
    Thanks for throwing the light on benefits of having a pet with the focus on mental health.
    I had a little puppy named Jimmy when I was eleven. It was an unexplainable experience with a lot of joy and mental peace with Jimmy. Unfortunately, Jimmy died due to some illness and it was a very sad phase of my life. Since then I could not dare to have a pet with the fear of losing it.
    You are correct as having pets in the family is very positive due the love they shower on us without any politics.We hug them and can cry in front of them to express everything in our mind. So beautiful.
    Warm Regards,
    Gaurav Gaur

    1. The bond we develop with our pets is a valuable one, so when we lose our pet, it is devastating. It’s also very normal and sometimes its better to have loved and lost than not loved at all. We can’t avoid having an attachment so we avoid feeling painful emotions. It’s very normal to have feelings, and being able to feel the not so good feelings is also okay and helps us build on our emotional resilience. I think the benefits of having a pet outweighs the emotions once they’re gone. All the best ~kat

  15. Thanks for such interesting article, you have made having a pet a very easy thing to do for those who still doubt it , I remember when I first adopted my dog he was scared and I was confused on taking care of him but now we both have grown to love ourselves and can’t stay without one another, he relieves me of loneliness when we play and take walks. It’s just amazing. 

    1. It sounds like you guys took a bit of getting used to each other, but once you both built that relationship and trust you are great companions now. ~ kat

  16. Hi Kat!
    You have written an awesome article on a very different topic. Anxiety, depression really is making our lives so annoying that lots of people commit suicide, fall on depressions as you said. So we need some relief and something enjoyable. Pets can be the very right company in this case. Especially cats I think. The activity they show is really enjoyable and they help to enjoy life.

    1. Thanks for sharing how enjoyable pets can be and are for so many of us. They are very entertaining as well as grounding for those who need it.  ~kat

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