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The mental health benefits of owning a pet

By Christian Healthcare Ministries
Mental Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

Pets and mental health

Pets and mental health go together like a sunny day and a walk in the park. Scientific studies confirm that pets improve your health. In addition to the physical health benefits of owning a dog or other active animals, pets are good for the mind, heart, and soul.

Taking care of pets can help you forget your troubles for a while. An affectionate pet can be there for you when family and friends are physically or emotionally distant. Pets don’t judge or hold grudges and they’ll jump for joy at your return, even if you’ve only been gone a little while.

The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) cites studies showing that interacting with animals improves mental health. Pets keep us active and involved in life.

They can also teach children about responsible routines, service, and empathy. They get kids and adults off the couch and out of their comfort zones. An American Kennel Club (AKC) survey of 2,000 dog owners found that nearly half made new friends while walking their dogs.

God’s creatures, great and small

“So don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”
[Matthew 10:31, NIV]

Pets can be as slow as turtles, as fast as ferrets, as curious as cats, and as loyal as dogs. God cares for all His creatures (Matthew 10:29-31) – even the tiniest sparrow – and we know we should cast our anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). But when life brings hardships and trials (2 Timothy 4:5), adversity, and discipline (Hebrews 12:11), it’s often difficult to trust.

Whatever the trial, God strengthens and upholds us through it all with His victorious hand (Isaiah 41:10). We’re also called to look out for each other’s interests (Philippians 2:4). Christian fellowship, service, and prayer support help us throughout life’s journey.

As part of God’s richly diverse creation, pets can play a part in lightening emotional, psychological, and spiritual burdens. Pets offer spontaneity and love that make life’s journey a little easier.

Scientific proof that pets support your mental health

The benefits of dogs and mental health as well as other animals are well established. Studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) support the mental health benefits of pet ownership and animal interaction, including service dogs.

NIH researchers have studied pets ranging from fish to dogs and other animals, including horses. They evaluated the effects of human-animal interaction using standardized measures of mental health, including the American Psychological Association’s Beck Depression Inventory.

Results for children and adults showed:

  • Improvement in discipline, responsibility, and coping skills
  • Reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Increased feelings of social connection
  • Less stress and anxiety
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness, sadness, or depression

Mental Health Foundation researchers found similar results. Pet owners are less likely to suffer depression, have lower blood pressure and other symptoms of stress, and live longer. Playing with pets increases serotonin and dopamine, which help you feel calm.

Researchers also noted that pets fulfill a basic human need for touch. This is especially important for people who are isolated or lonely and for abused children who have never experienced mutual affection. Just petting an animal relieves stress and anxiety. Pets can also add purpose and structure to your day.

Pets don’t judge or hold grudges and they’ll jump for joy at your return, even if you’ve only been gone a little while.

Signs your dog imprinted on you

Being a dog mom and other “pet parent” trends can lead some people to wonder if their furry friend is too close. Some dogs attach to just one person while avoiding other humans and pets.

Experts at the American Kennel Club (AKC) say that puppies can “imprint” like an invisible stamp on a human. This can happen from birth up to six months of age.

Imprinting can be part of healthy bonding if you keep things in balance. Pets and pet owners shouldn’t be so inseparable that there’s little room for other people, interests, and activities.

Vets encourage early socialization of pets so they’re not fearful or aggressive around other pets and people. Signs of healthy bonding include pets that:

  • Are comfortable with eye contact
  • Seek physical contact
  • Are instantly attentive to your voice
  • Attach themselves to something that’s yours like a blanket
  • Feel at ease when you’re around
  • Show excitement when you return home

After reading the research, you might be eager to bring a furry friend into your home. But what are the best pets for mental health? Almost any pet can bring companionship and comfort.

Popular choices range from fish, turtles, ferrets, and hamsters to birds, cats, and dogs. To ensure a healthy relationship with any pet, research and talk with experts so you know what to expect.

If you can’t afford or accommodate a pet, you have other options. You can spend time with other people’s pets, volunteer at a shelter, walk dogs, pet sit, or even visit a petting zoo for a lift.

Ask rescue organizations, veterinarians, pet retailers, and others for information. With just a bit of effort, you can receive the advantages of owning a pet in no time!

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Christian Healthcare Ministries
Christian Healthcare Ministries and its members help carry the load for their brothers and sisters in Christ, reflecting the spiritual values outlined in Galatians 6:2.