After a rough day at work there’s nothing like coming home a friendly tail wagging the moment you walk in the house. It’s enough to make you leave those feelings of apprehension, unease, or physical exhaustion at the door. The power of pets for your mental health and wellbeing is not just an opinion but a fact.
For many people, having a pet is a major boost to their mental health. That has been especially true during the pandemic. According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) nearly 1 in 5 households in the US acquired a dog or cat during the COVID-19 crisis.
The idea behind many of those acquisitions was that people would be spending much more time at home given the state of the world. Even as restrictions became more lenient and many returned to work, 87% of respondents to an ASPCA survey said that they’re not considering rehoming their animals.
Dog Ownership Boosts Morale During Pandemic
As we approach the two-year mark of a global health crisis, research suggests that having a furry friend has been a boon for mental health.
A study published in the journal PLOS One in December found that dog owners had more social support and fewer depressive symptoms during the the pandemic than those who did not own dogs.
“Dogs play an important role in people’s emotional lives. And it looks like they helped their owners cope better with this difficult situation we’ve all been in.” Francois Martin, Ph.D., is the study’s lead author and a researcher in the animal behavior and welfare group. He told Everyday Health “They’re extremely smart, social animals, attuned to our feelings and our signals. They’re always happy to see you — this kind of comfort is powerful during these times.”
Previous research found similar results. A study in the journal Animals revealed that 85% of dog owners and 75% of cat owners believed that their pets had a positive effect on their well-being during the pandemic.
The Benefit of Pets in a Therapeutic Setting
It’s not surprising that pet owners would experience benefits from their canine and feline friends during the pandemic. Pets often provide an excuse to get outside, interact with neighbors, and decrease any sense of isolation.
Additionally, studies have found that dogs lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. In human-dog interactions, both parties are flooded with oxytocin, and experience decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a 2017 study.
There are a number of therapy dog organizations across the United States. A variety of behavioral health treatment centers also offer this evidence-based intervention as a way to provide comfort and support to patients young and old.
It’s not just our Dogs that Benefit our Mental Health
But dogs aren’t the only animals whose interactions have proved to provide people with mental health benefits.
Equine-assisted therapy is an increasingly popular experiential approach that is designed to help people develop skills such as emotion regulation, relaxation, self-confidence, trust, communication, and responsibility. In this form of therapy, people participate in activities such as feeding, grooming, and leading a horse around under the supervision of a qualified equine therapist.
Many therapists feel that horses are particularly effective therapy animals due to being both prey and social animals. They need to be constantly aware of their surroundings because of the possible presence of predators, and as animals that generally run in packs, they’re more aware of emotions in others, including humans.
Equine-assisted therapy has been shown to benefit patients who have a variety of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorders, dissociative disorders, and dementia. It has also been effective across all age ranges.
Whether it’s a dog that is there to greet you or weekly time in the stable with one of nature’s most majestic creatures, animals can be incredibly effective in providing us with comfort and helping us understand more about ourselves.
In a time of so much uncertainty in the world, sometimes there’s nothing better.
About Life Healing Center
Life Healing Center provides residential treatment for adults who are struggling with mental health concerns, substance use disorders, and the effects of trauma. Located on 7 acres within the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Life Healing Center’s Santa Fe, New Mexico, campus is a safe, serene space that fosters inner growth and personal transformation. Clinically excellent, trauma-focused services and an unwavering commitment to inclusivity set Life Healing Center apart as a leader in behavioral health treatment. For more information, please visit www.life-healing.com.