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  • Kate Heitzler

6 Benefits Animals Have On Our Mental Health

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


On the left side of the picture is a turkey that is standing next to a young girl with curly blonde hair and a striped dress. The girl has her hand on the turkey and is petting the turkey as they are both looking at a piece of park made out of wood.
Addie petting a turkey outside.

As people, we often turn to animals for comfort and emotional support, as our anchor through chaos, emotional turmoil and for companionship. Whether it’s to snuggle up after a long day or always having a partner in crime through our walks, hike, or camping trips, animals have a unique ability to make us feel better. But the really powerful thing is that there are many benefits animals have on our mental health and they play a big role in our mental health treatment as well. There are many therapeutic benefits of simply just owning a pet…any pet really. It can be a dog or cat. It can be chickens, horses, guniea pigs or even snakes!! 1. Animals can reduce stress and Anxiety

One of the amazing things about animals is their ability to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Research has shown that spending time with animals can lower cortisol levels, which is a hormone associated with stress. who doesn’t want less stress? So while they decrease cortisol levels (stress) they increase oxytocin, a hormone we produce when feeling bonded and relaxed. 2. Improve Mood

Pets can also increase our mood and give us purpose and meaning. Chemically spending time with a pet can increase serotonin and dopamine, Major contributors to happiness and pleasure!! Pretty amazing I would say! With a pet we have purpose and meaning, even if it is simply caring for them. Purpose and meaning is one of the key things I look for with my clients to help battle depression and feel more fulfilled and satisfied. Sometimes in those depressive episodes it hard to go for a walk but if we have a pet we have purpose for the walk.

3. Increased Social Support

Have you ever been to a dog park or even new Belgium with a dog? Instant social support. A dog provides a sense of companionship and connection. Pets can help facilitated social connections with other pet owners or simply just pet lovers. Sometimes it easier to meet people with an instant conversation starter.

If we are more introverted pets can BE your social support. Maybe we aren’t looking to meet anyone or talk to anyone but getting out to a pet friendly coffee shop or going for a hike with a furry companion may be more our speed. 4. Improved physical health

Having a pet can often lead to better physical health. Owning a pet encourages outdoor activity and outdoor play. I tend to want to go to Yoga more if there is a goat or 2 who may be attending as well. Or going for a hike or just playing outside seems easier andmore natural with a pet involved.

5. Improves Confidence

Animals can be great confidence builders. They provide Unconditional Love and Acceptance They do not judge us! We can show up to our pets without any masks on. Just show up as us! They accept us just the way we are. Feeding, grooming, and exercising an animal can help people develop a sense of purpose and achievement, which can boost confidence. Purpose for me is the #1 thing I look for when helping people battle depression. Knowing that they are capable of taking care of another living being can also give people a sense of competence and confidence in their abilities. Walking a dog in the park or taking a pet to the vet can be a great way for people to socialize and practice communication skills. This can help people feel more confident in social situations and improve their communication skills. Pets provide an easy communication tool and serve as a instant ice breaker

6. Helps practice and build empathy

Just like us, animals experience a range of emotions, including joy, fear, excitement and sadness. By observing animals and their behaviors, we can learn to recognize these emotions and understand how they might feel in certain situations. This can help us become more empathetic towards animals and, in turn, towards other humans. Animals communicate with each other in a variety of ways, such as through body language, vocalizations, and scent marking. By learning to interpret these signals, we can better understand what animals are feeling and thinking. This skill can also be applied to human communication, helping us become more perceptive to the emotions of others. Caring for animals fosters compassion. When we care for animals, we develop a sense of responsibility towards their wellbeing. This can help us become more compassionate towards all living beings, including humans. Studies have shown that children who grow up with pets tend to be more empathetic and compassionate as adults. By observing their emotions, learning their communication signals, and caring for their wellbeing, we can become more empathetic towards both animals and humans.

7. Equine Therapy

Equine therapy has been found to help with a whole range of mental health issues. It promotes mindfulness, empathy and emotional regulation. Working with horses can help individuals with a sense of responsibility and trust which can result in better relationships and communication skills. Horses are known for their amazing ability to mirror human emotions which can help humans understand their own emotions and emotional states better. Pretty wild huh!

6. Therapeutic Benefits

Leaving the best for last. Therapeutic benefits. Holy Cow there are a lot! Like I mentioned above pets have a way of naturally releasing chemicals we get from psychotropic medications. Now of course they can’t replace your medications but man can they sure helps! If you want to see a documentation on all the amazing ways pets have supported humans watch the show Dogs on Netflix. It is fascination to watch all the ways Dogs just know what we need.

Animals can play a significant role in mental health treatment and overall well-being. It reduces stress and anxiety and actually chemically can have an impacts on our mind and body. They provide social support, companionship and overall improvement on our physical health. If you are thinking of adding a pet to your life do your research and find one that would be a perfect match for you and fit your lifestyle. There are many animal types and personalities to choose from and there is a perfect companion for you!

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