Imagine yourself having a bad day: upset, stressed, possibly crying. Talking with a friend can help, but we bet that if you had a dog or cat around one of the first things you did on your bad day is bury your face in their fur and give them a big hug. Studies have shown that having an animal can help relieve stress anytime, and for people who struggle with depression, the unconditional love from an animal can truly be a mood booster.
Can Pets Help With Depression?
The health benefits of pets
Humans have been living with animals such as dogs and cats for thousands of years. We've helped our domesticated animals to evolve to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions because we needed them for protection, for hunting partners, and for general companionship. Dogs are called "man's best friend" because they can understand our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. Cats satisfy our desire to touch something soft, and their purring is relaxing, which can encourage stress reduction and ease loneliness.
Children can benefit from caring for an animal because it can help them enjoy activity and playfulness. Older adults, who may have more health problems or have more difficulty getting out of the house, can enjoy valuable companionship thanks to pets.
Mental and physical health
Humans love animals, and we have for thousands of years. Living with animals such as cats and dogs can help us feel less alone, which can be a cause of depression. Having a dog or cat at home can reduce instances of depression because we aren't coming home to a totally empty house — instead, there's a living creature at home who needs us. Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which helps impart a calm and relaxed feeling.
Help Guides says that one of the reasons for these calming benefits from pets is that petting a dog or cat fulfills a human's basis need for touch. Pets can also impart better mental health because an animal like a dog needs to be walked, which means the owners can be getting more exercise, which in turn leads to improved mental health. Just knowing that there's a structure to a person's day in the form of needing to be home to feed and/or walk an animal companion can help maintain a consistent routine. No matter how you're feeling, your animal needs you, and that is often enough to keep feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress at bay.
Psych Central says pet owners have improved mental health and less depression because pets offer unconditional love and acceptance while at the same time encouraging pet owners to think about things other than themselves. Our dogs and cats want our attention whenever we walk through the door, which makes it harder to dwell on our own negative feelings. When we know that there's an animal waiting for us to get out of bed, we're less likely to not sleep until noon.
A 2016 study that was published in a journal that explores the human-animal bond looked at how pets help people in their management of a long-term mental health problem. this study found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support. This study found that pets offered the most valued support due to help their owners manage feelings of their mental illness symptoms and upsetting experiences.
Another study in the journal PLOS One showed that pet owners knew more people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners, which was a significant source of relationships and friendships for the people in the three cities studied. Dog owners in the three U.S. cities were significantly more likely than owners of other types of pets to regard these pet-related relationships as friends. Around 40% of pet owners reported enjoying social support through the people they met through their pet.
Ongoing studies about pets
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) says that pet owners enjoy significant savings on healthcare. In 2015, two researchers from George Mason University, calculated an $11.7 billion savings in U.S. healthcare costs as a result of the child health and development, healthy aging, and mental health and wellness bnenefits of pet ownership.
Just talk to anyone who has a pet and they'll likely tell you that their pet simply makes them feel better, even if they can't explain why. Researchers are studying why this is, and studies have shown clear benefits to people of all ages. A Canadian study involving students reported that 246 students said they felt less stressed, more energetic, and happier after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.
Pet owners have long reported that one of the best things they love about their pets is that they provide unconditional love. We may walk in the door after a long day at work feeling tired, grump, and stressed, but our pets don't care. They love us anyway, and they need us nonetheless. Caring for a pet provides long-term mental health benefits because it can provide a sense of purpose to life.
Cats and dogs need daily care for the entirety of their lives. Throughout life changes, such as a career ending or changing, relationships changing or ending, children moving away, or whatever might happen, caring for a pet never changes, which can add an important sense of fulfillment to a person's life.
Making new friends as we age can get harder, and many studies have shown that a lack of companionship in older life contributes to depression. Pets, especially dogs, are a great way for older adults to replace some of the lack of companionship caused by retirement, older children living their own lives, and other life changes. Dogs and cats make us laugh, which by itself can be enough. to increase our feelings of wellbeing and stave off feelings of loneliness and depression.