Pets are mental health relievers

Pets have many therapeutic traits, bringing those who are around them joy. Studies show that pets can help manage depression. Photo courtesy of Alexis Taylor

Many people have a pet. From a scaly snake to a furry ferret, pets bring a smile to people’s faces.  

In fact, the human-animal bond is very beneficial to one’s mental health.  Studies say pets help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and may even help lower blood pressure.  

“Animals pick up on when their owners are distressed,”  said Clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, PhD, to WebMD.  Dogs are said to be particularly good at sensing a human’s emotions. 

In 2015, a study published which stated that dogs had the ability to differentiate the different faces of human emotions. Professor Danial Mills from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln wrote, “[The] dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarization with the subjects in the images or audio… This suggests that dogs’ ability to combine emotional cues may be intrinsic. As a highly social species, such a tool would have been advantageous and the detection of emotion in humans may even have been selected for over generations of domestication by us.”  Over many years, dogs have been domesticated by humans from wolves to hunting partners to household pets. These many years of adaptations between humans and dogs have led to the connection people call ‘man’s best friend’. 

While dogs may be able to sense human emotions, scientists don’t believe they are capable of emotions beyond the basic standard emotions of anger, fear, and anxiety.  However, cats can.

According to The Nest, cats have similar hormonal, neurological, and genetic makeup to humans.  Cats can show their emotions in many ways, some more harmful than others. For instance, when a cat is experiencing anxiety, it may begin to bite itself, or pull its fur out.  I have seen firsthand what anxiety can do to a cat, as I have grown up with cats as household pets. When a cat shows signs of anxiety, such as constantly pulling their fur out or biting at their paws, it usually hints to something bigger. Two of my own cats have experienced similar anxiety issues, which was their way of indicating there was something wrong health wise.  One, Candy, had a recurring Urinary Tract Infection, and the other, CP, had a lung issue which had gone unnoticed by a veterinarian. Both resulted in their deaths within my sophomore year.  

Since cats are similar to humans, they, too, may need a third party stress reliever, such as stress aeromas.  While humans take medications to help with their mental health, a stress collar or spray helps to calm a cat.  

Since cats can emotionally and mentally comprehend what a human is feeling, they will often be right by your side when they are needed.  “A pet can remind you that you’re not alone,” said Life Coach Desiree Wiercyski to WebMD. “Pets offer unconditional love, which can be extraordinarily soothing when feeling isolated.”

In fact, playing with a pet can help release higher levels of serotonin (which regulates basic functions such as sleep, appetite, and mood) and dopamine (which sends messages between nerve cells).  Another therapeutic benefit of a pet is the relaxation you receive from simply petting a pet. Many prisons are actually bringing pets, who were abandoned at shelters due to them being ‘non-adoptable’, to inmates whose job it is to care for the animal.  The interaction between the inmate and animal is a form of rehabilitation for both.

The connection between pets and their owners is a strong bond.  They look out for each other, in more ways than most people would know.


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