How to Practice Self-Care With Your Cat or Dog

Self-care: It's all the rage and it's a wellness trend that's actually more enjoyable to participate in than to skip. Self-care is exactly what it sounds like: it's taking the time to prioritize your own mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Luckily for pet owners, our furriest friends can also be our biggest assets in the self-care game. Here are some of the biggest ways your pets factor into your self-care routine.

How cats help with self-care

They're mood-boosters: Having a pet—any pet—is a huge mood-booster, especially for people who are suffering from loneliness. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that pets provide social support for owners, which improves their overall well-being. And yeah, this point will apply to doggos, too.

Aren't you so cute!
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They make life seem better—even if it actually isn't: This is another one that applies to dogs as well as cats. A 2005 study of elderly patients found that interacting with animals increased patients' overall perception of their quality of life, even when nothing else about their situation or health had changed. Pets were also shown to decrease symptoms of depression.

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They make us more open and comfortable with other humans: A 2017 study showed that when doctors ask a patient about their pets, the patient is more comfortable and open about everything going forward. Basically just mentioning a pet is powerful social lubricant and this applies to dogs and cats (and horses and lizards and, well, everything).

Young woman in Half Lotus pose at home, cat near
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They make you less stressed: Studies have found that owning a cat is great for your stress—as in, it lowers it. By lowering stress levels, cats also help lower their owners' risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and stroke.

They help you sleep better: Getting plenty of Z's is a pivotal part of a solid self-care routine and owning a cat can help improve your sleep routine. That's not really surprising, since cats are basically the sleep experts of the animal kingdom. Studies have found that many people (women, in particular) actually prefer to sleep with their cats over their partners, and even report sleeping better with a cat than with a human as their bedmate. Another study, this one from the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine, confirmed these findings. In the Mayo Clinic study, 41 percent participants said they slept better because of their pet.

Happy blonde with pet cat on sofa
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They give you energy and positive vibes: You don't even have to own an actual cat to get this self-care boost from felines. In a study from Indiana University Bloomington, just watching videos of cats online was found to boost viewers' energy and positive emotions while simultaneously decreasing negative feelings.

How to practice self-care with your cat

  • Spend time playing with them every day. It's fun and relaxing, and will put both of you in a better mood!
  • Set aside some cuddling time every day. The act of cuddling helps create a stronger bond between you and your cat by releasing oxytocin, the "bonding hormone" that makes us feel cozy and lovey-dovey, in your brain.
  • Teach your cat some basic training commands. Yes, cats can be trained, and it's a fun bonding activity for both of you! It will challenge both of you and can serve as a stimulating distraction for when you're feeling bored or blue.

How dogs help with self-care

They're mood-boosters: Just like cats, dogs boost our moods, especially when we're lonely and lacking social support. As we noted above, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that pets provide social support for owners, which improves their overall well-being.

modern woman working from home
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They make life seem better—even if it actually isn't: If you've been reading the cat-owner portion of this post, this is another factor that will give you some deja vu, but, hey, dog and cat people have more in common than they think, apparently. Owning a dog makes life seem better even if it isn't. A 2005 study of elderly patients found that interacting with animals increased patients' overall perception of their quality of life, even when nothing else about their situation or health had changed. Pets were also shown to decrease symptoms of depression.

Senior woman sitting on sofa with dog, smiling
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They make us more open and comfortable with other humans: Time for more deja vu (what can I say? The benefits of any animal companionship on self-care are huge): A 2017 study showed that when doctors ask a patient about their pets, the patient is more comfortable and open about everything going forward. Basically just mentioning a pet is powerful social lubricant.

Cheerful Young Woman Walking With Dogs outdoors
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They can help you build confidence and lessen anxiety: In a 2016 study, researchers found that dogs can be good audiences for anxious humans with performance anxiety. In the study, children who struggled with reading were asked to read aloud to a trained dog (and the dog's handler). After the dog reading session, the kids' anxiety lessened and their reading skills improved.

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They keep you active: Physical activity is a key component of self-care—in the immortal words of Elle Woods, exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy. Owning a dog has been shown to increase overall activity levels (which, like duh—the walks alone, not to mention the fetch and the tug and the...breaking a sweat just thinking about it).

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that kids with dogs spend more time exercising (in terms of both moderate and vigorous activity) than kids without dogs. Those exercise-increasing effects are there for adult dog owners too. A 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Victoria found that dog owners walk almost twice as much as non-dog owners (an average of 300 minutes per week for dog owners vs. an average of 168 minutes per week for non-dog owners).

They make you more social: This one is another no-brainer for dog owners, but yeah, owning a pup makes you more social, which in turn increases your mental wellbeing. A 2005 review in the British Medical Journal found that dogs act as "social catalysts" — which is science for "they make people talk to each other and hang out more." Owning a dog means you'll be less lonely.

Romantic happy couple in love enjoying their time with pets
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They make you better at dealing with stress: The same 2005 review in the British Medical Journal found that dog owners are better at dealing with stressful events and less likely to succumb to anxiety-related illnesses.

How to practice self-care with your dog

  • Take a walk: As mentioned above, owning a dog tends to make you more active, and physical activity is key in boosting your mood. It doesn't have to be the longest walk in the world, just get out of the house and take the dog! They'll appreciate it and you'll most likely experience a mood lift from the exercise and the fresh air.
  • Pet them: That's right, it's that simple! Just like when you cuddle with your cat, petting or snuggling your dog releases oxytocin in your brain, making you feel all warm and cozy and instantly improving your mood.
  • Play a game with them: It can be any game—we're willing to bet your dog will be stoked no matter what the object of the game is. Go outside for a rousing game of fetch, or introduce a food puzzle that will give your dog a nice mental challenge. Whatever game you choose to play, you'll enjoy watching your dog have fun, and your mood will be boosted in the process. If the game involves exercise, so much the better, but either way, it will be a great bonding activity and will boost those feel-good hormones for both of you.