Positive Pet Power: How Your Pup Can Better Your Mental Health
This article is contributed by guest writer Dakota Murphey (Freelance Writer).
As dog owners around the world will know, there’s nothing that compares to the love and joy that having a canine companion can bring. But did you also know that caring for a pet is good for your physical and mental health? As scientific studies are beginning to explore the bond between pets and their owner, it is becoming clearer just how powerful the health and wellness benefits of having a pup can be.
What are the health benefits of getting a dog?
Pets can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. “Most of us go through periods of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days,” explains one mental health expert. Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer with depression than those without pets, and they tend to have lower blood pressure in stressful situations. Playing with a dog can elevate serotonin and dopamine levels, leading to greater feelings of calm and relaxation.
What’s more, pet owners have lower cholesterol levels, and heart attack survivors who have a dog do better than those with no pets. Pets ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness. In short, they fulfil the basic need for human connection and unconditional love and are the perfect companion to help us lead healthier lifestyles.
Making healthy lifestyle changes
Having a dog can help you make healthy lifestyle changes and boost your mental health, easing symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress and more:
- More physical activity – Daily dog walks are fun and rewarding ways to fit regular exercise into your routine. Dog owners are far more likely to be physically active, getting some form of exercise every day that also helps to deepen the human-pet connection and keeps your pet fit and healthy too.
- Valuable companionship – Looking after a pet helps to combat loneliness and isolation, which can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for your pup makes you feel needed and wanted, while companionship can help prevent illness; it can even add years to your life. There’s nothing more uplifting than coming home to a wagging tail!
- Routine and structure – Looking after a pet requires dedication and set routines to keep your pup fed, exercised and happy. What’s good for the dog may also be good for the owner. No matter your mood or the weather, you know you’ve committed to a routine of responsible dog ownership and you have to show up.
- Meeting new people – A dog can be a great ‘social lubricant’ helping you to start conversations and make new friends. Whether in a puppy training class, on a dog walk, in a pet shop or at the vet’s, dog owners have a shared interest that’s easy to bond over.
Benefits of dog ownership for older people
Healthy ageing is what we all want and owning a pet can play an important role here too. Did you know that dog owners aged 65+ make 30% fewer visits to their GP than their non-pet owning contemporaries? Dogs are the perfect companion for ageing gracefully and can help:
- Boost vitality – By remaining physically active, mentally active, playful and positive through dog ownership, seniors can enjoy a valuable boost to their immune system and energy levels, which can help overcome many of the challenges associated with ageing.
- Social connections – As you get older, it becomes more difficult to build and maintain your social network. At the same time, relocation, retirement, illness and death can take away close friends and family. Dogs are an ideal way to help meet new people and make new friends.
- Joie de vivre – With job and family responsibilities receding into the past as you age, it can be hard to find new purpose. Having a pet can give your life structure, meaning and joy. Having a buddy to share your life with and look after can help boost your sense of self-worth, morale and positivity.
Benefits of dogs for children
Children and dogs are a powerful combination; they often form strong lifelong bonds.
- Unconditional love – Unlike parents or teachers, dogs do not criticise, give orders or have expectations. The unconditional love and affection they bring can help boost a child’s sense of security in the family. Even when mum and/or dad aren’t around, a pet can ease separation anxiety and provide a sense of stability.
- Positive self-image – Enjoying the love and companionship of a pet can help a child feel valued and important, so they can develop a healthy sense of self and a positive self-image.
- Better relationships – Children who have formed a strong bond with their pet are more likely to develop a healthy sense of empathy, compassion and understanding. There’s no fear of rejection from their beloved dog, which helps to build confidence and empowers children to form healthy relationships with other people.
- Stress reduction – Studies have shown that dogs can have a big impact on calming hyperactive children, aggressive children, those with ADHD and autism or other behavioural challenges. With appropriate training for both pet and young owner, dogs can be the perfect antidote to stressful situations, being a source of calmness and relaxation.
Is having a pet the right decision for you?
It should not be underestimated that having a dog is a serious commitment. As they say, a dog is not just for Christmas. Time, money, energy and the right home environment are all key requisites that should be in place before a pet joins the family.
Ask yourself the following questions, or get a dog trainer, dog shelter or other professional to help you assess what you need to do to prepare for a pup in your home:
- How much outdoor space do you have?
- How active are you / can you reasonably expect to be?
- How much time are you willing to spend with your pet?
- How much money is available for pet care, vet bills, insurance,
Provided you are well prepared and have a realistic appreciation of the commitment it takes to look after a dog, getting a pup can be the best decision you’ve ever made. Caring for a furry friend can bring unexpected joy, mental and physical stimulation that grounds you firmly in the here and now. That is the healthiest place to be on this Earth.