Supporting Mental Health with Pets

Posted by Belinda Bird on

For everyone that currently owns a pet, we all know the power they hold in comforting us, keeping us feeling young and giving us endless laughs with their quirky nature. But many people who do not own a pet are unaware of these benefits and how pets around the world are helping people every day to lead a healthier lifestyle and support their minds.  

 

Dogs have become so domesticated that not only have they learned countless words, they also have a natural instinct to read our tone of voice and body language to assess how we are feeling and act accordingly. We are not saying that they get it right every time.. but have you ever had a rough day and felt a bit beaten or overwhelmed and all your dog does is come and sit by your side for comfort (after recouping from the excitement of you arriving home of course). 

 

Studies have even shown that children that grow up with pets in the household can grow up to be more secure and active. 

 

Most importantly though, pets bring real joy and unconditional love into our lives. 

 

 

How can dogs help support those with mental health concerns?

 

Remember that dogs are more in-tune with your feelings and emotions through your gestures, tone, and movements than many humans realise. Dogs will assess your situation to decide how they should act. There is a reason that dogs are called 'Man's best friend'. 

 

A lot of people feel an instant gratification from their dog through the warmth of their dogs head resting on their knee or their dogs body in their lap. It makes them smile and feel good, but are you aware of the physical and mental health benefits that also accompany the pleasure of playing with your four-legged friend? 

 

Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet gives us a chance to relax and calm our minds. Caring for a pet also gives our day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. It also helps us feel valuable and needed.

 

 

     Studies have shown:

  • Depression is less likely to occur in pet owners than those people without pets. 
  • People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
  • Serotonin and dopamine levels tend to increase when you play with a dog or a cat, which in turn, calms and relaxes you. 
  • Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
  • Heart attack patients with dogs survive longer than those without.
  • Pet owners over the age of 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.

 

 

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that dogs fulfill the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with dogs, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe us when we’re stressed or anxious.

 

The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression. (source: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm)

 

 

Simply caring for your dog and help make some significant lifestyle changes!

 

Exercise

Whether you walk your dog out of obligation or because you genuinely enjoy the happiness it brings to them, either way, you are becoming more active. A simple walk once a day not only helps to relax and energise you, it is also doing amazing work on the inside, such as speeding up your metabolism, reducing snacking and leaving you feeling good for the extra Vitamin D. 
 

Socialising

How many times have you been on a walk and your dog decides that every other dog and person at the park is their friend? When people meet from doing the same activity, conversations are easier and the talking point 'your dogs', is a natural go to. Having social interaction outside of work and family is vital. It is rare to talk to a pet owner and not have a good laugh about how gangly or 'special' your dog is. 
 

Routine

As much as some of us don't like to admit it, we all need routine in our lives, we thrive off it, and so do our pets!  Dogs are so smart that they know your routine better than you do. They learn what steps happen before you take them for a walk and get excited, they know what steps happen before you go to work, and that following those steps a long wait starts until their best friend comes home again. Structure and routine keep us feeling accomplished throughout the day. 
 

Anxiety

For people that feel anxiety about going out into the world on their own, a dog can provide the comfort and support they need, and remind them that they are not alone. The love and loyalty from a dog is second to none and is absolutely genuine. 

 

 

 

How owning a pet can affect a child?

 

Pets teach children to care for something other than themselves. This in itself teaches compassion, love, and affection. A child may not be on top of picking up the poop in the backyard or bathing, but they will show that dog or cat some serious love. Children also thrive off routine, and by setting up a daily or morning routine for your pet, it will automatically provide more structure for your child.  

 


Pets and children with ADHD

Children with ADHD can benefit from working with and keeping a pet. Taking charge of the jobs on a pet care schedule, such as feeding, walking, and bathing, helps a child learn to plan and be responsible.
Pets need to play, and playing with a pet is a great way to release excess energy. Your child can burn off energy walking a dog or running around with a kitten, making them more relaxed later in the day and calmer at night.
Fresh air and good circulation from aerobic exercise increases oxygen-filled blood flow to a child's brain, therefore increasing their ability to concentrate.
Children with ADHD are used to their parents trying to calm them down or reprimanding them.
A pet is a great listener, and offers unconditional love and will not criticize a child for having too much energy. This can aid a child's self-confidence. (Sourced: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/pets-and-mental-health)
 
 

Pets and Autism

Sensory issues are common among children with autism. Sensory integration activities are designed to help them get used to the way something feels against their skin or how it smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both been used for this purpose. Children with autism often find it calming to work with animals.
It has been claimed that in the case of people with autism, animals can reduce stereotyped behavior, lessen sensory sensitivity, and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others. Further research into this area needs to be carried out, however.

 

 

 

Owning a dog or cat is a major commitment, and every family needs to assess their situation and select the right pet for them, but all in all, pets bring so much more to every household than just love and laughter. 

 

 

Our lives are enriched by pets and we are lucky to have the opportunity to share our time with them. This can become easily forgotten with a busy life and work schedule, but a simple trip to the park or some one on one time with your cat or dog can easily remind us of just how lucky we are!

 

From all the team at

Innate Pets 

 


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