Amazing ways your pets can help
with your mental health
The UK is a nation of pet lovers. They bring us joy, comfort, laughs and company. So it’s no surprise that there’s 51 million of them in the U.K, but did you know having a furry friend in the home is good for your mental wellbeing? In fact, scientists are suggesting that pets should be a main part of the support network for those suffering with mental illnesses. From helping us deal with stress to making us exercise more, here is a rundown of the many surprising ways an animal can help.
A Pet a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
A study has found that petting a dog for only 15 minutes lowers blood pressure by 10%. It releases serotonin, oxytocin, prolactin and even lowers the stress hormone cortisol. These feel-good hormones lower our stress and anxiety, serotonin being the main thing antidepressants try to replicate. And it’s not just dogs, studies show that the interaction with cats, rabbits and even turtles has the same effect. In one study, adults were told to pet either a turtle, rabbit, toy turtle or toy rabbit. Researchers found that petting a living creature, whether furry or shelled, massively reduced anxiety in the participants.
Hair of the Dog
Growing up in a less sterile environment - surrounded by animals, pet hair and dust not only gives us a better immune system but also benefits our body’s response to anxiety, according to research.
For the study, scientists recruited 40 healthy German men. Half had grown up on a farm, half had grown up in urban environments in the absence of pets. Researchers asked the adult males to perform a speech and solve a hard maths problem. After the task, blood was drawn and the number of viable peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were measured. A higher number of viable PBMCs indicates an increased response to stress. The results showed that those who grew up in the absence of animals had notably higher levels of an inflammatory immune response to stress in their blood.
Proof That Pets Are Better Than Humans
Many of us would rather be in the company of our four-legged friends than with our two-legged counterparts, but now there’s science to confirm it. According to a study in a nursing home, residents felt less lonely after spending time with pooches than being with humans. And evidence shows that children often favour a connection with their animals too. A pet can’t argue back, so with less conflict, they felt they had a stronger relationship with their pet than with their sibling. The authors said: “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.”
On top of this, a hospital in the U.S scanned mothers’ brains who owned a dog. They found that their brains were activated in similar ways when viewing their own child and their own dog. There is also evidence to show the relation with our dog is extraordinarily like the parent-child bond. Studies show the way dogs behave with their owners is like children’s behaviour.
Animals are just as good as Antidepressants
Most pets need exercise, especially dogs. Walking your dog can be a great way to get in more exercise and it’s been proven extremely beneficial to our mental wellbeing. Studies have shown that the effects of exercise as depression treatment is comparable to antidepressants and cognitive therapy.
Even just viewing an animal can be beneficial for the brain. Research at an Alzheimer’s disease facility found that patients ate more and were less prone to pacing when they ate in front of aquariums.
Combating PTSD: “Without My Dog I’d Be Dead”
People suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have reported that their pet tried to cheer them up when undergoing an episode and felt more protected around their animal. A pet owner with PTSD said: “They don’t have input, ‘this is what you should do, or maybe you should try this’ or all the other commentary I get from people, who are trying to be helpful in their own right…their dying devotion and love, it’s true friendship.” It’s not just protection these animals provide. The introduction of therapy dogs, was also found to decrease the need for pain medication, according to The Department of Defence in Bethesda, Maryland.
Craig MacLellan put rather openly “I’d be dead” without his dog. MacLellan a former Marine and founder of Veterans with Dogs, joined a six-week charity course with Combat Stress. Maclellan being a dog lover, asked to bring his dog along. During group therapy sessions his dog would pace a room before eventually sitting down with someone. “We started to realise it was the person who was feeling most anxious or the person who was slightly more emotional than other people.” His dog became such a hit with the other veterans, that they asked to borrow her. The experience at the course inspired him to start Veterans with Dogs, which he says is in high demand.
Social Butterflies Live Longer
Our furry friends help us socialise. Having a pet can lead to conversations during pet walks and in day to day life. Wheelchair users with a dog reported that they engaged in more conversations with strangers than those without. Evidence shows that increased social interaction can help depression sufferers and helps build our self-esteem. Not only can socialising improve our mental health but it could be the key to longevity. A nine-year study found that people who lacked social relationships were three times more likely to die than people with good social ties.
Helping You Cope
Pets can help us cope with tough times and dogs, more than any other animal have become attuned to humans. They’re able to pick up on our emotions, moods and behaviours, and while dog and cat owners alike can attest to the joys of snuggling up to or playing with their cuddly companions, science can now prove these benefits too. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets with a reduced risk of heart disease and greater longevity. Studies have also found that those with a pet are less likely to suffer from depression.
Creepy Crawlies Help Defeat Depression Too
It’s not just our four-legged friends that can benefit our wellbeing. In one study an elderly group were given five crickets to care for. After eight weeks the insect-caring group became significantly less depressed than the non-caring group.
Owning a pet is a major commitment, but if you can fit them into your life, they can be hugely rewarding.