11 Ways Pets Support Mental Health -- By Sharon Burch, APRN

The research is clear: There are many mental health benefits of owning a pet. Studies show that pets reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; they also ease loneliness. encourage exercise, and improve overall health. Playing with a pet has been shown to raise the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet. The bonds between humans and animals are powerful in bringing us joy, purpose, and unconditional love.

  1. Interacting with Pets Lowers Our Stress Hormones: Playing with a pet reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine. These are hormones that calm and relax the nervous system. When we smile and laugh at our pets’ cute behavior, that helps stimulate the release of these “happiness hormones.”

  2. Our Pets Make Us Feel Needed: Caring for another living thing gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. Doing something for the good of others reduces depression and loneliness.

  3. Pets Increase Our Sense of Self-Esteem: Pet owners have better self-esteem and are happier, healthier, and better adjusted than non-owners.

  4. Pets Show Us How to Be in the Moment: Pets don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow, so they can help people live in the present moment, too, and remember how to be playful and carefree.

  5. Pets Support Recovery from Mental Illness: Cats, dogs, hamsters, finches, and even goldfish can help people manage their emotions, even in the presence of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Having pets gives people a stronger sense of identity, security, and distraction from symptoms like hearing voices, suicidal thoughts, or rumination.

  6. Pets Help Us Build Healthy Habits: Pets need to be taken care of every day, so they help us build healthy habits and routines. Dog owners need to take their pets for walks, runs, and hikes regularly, so they get exercise and time in nature. Pets need to eat regularly, so they give people a reason to get up and start their day.