We don’t all have one, but maybe we should. I’m talking about pets. Maybe we don’t all like furry creatures running around our home, but for those of us that do, having a pet could be good for our mental health.
Dogs, cats, hamsters, you name it, and odds are someone somewhere probably has it for a pet. And believe it or not, those pets are helping their owner’s mental health.
Recent studies show that having a pet can help ease stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. While all pets are great, owning a cat or dog is more likely to provide direct happiness. This is because over time, cats and dogs have observed and evolved to understand our tone of voice, gestures, and much of what we say.
Having a pet can also help motivate us to work out more. Animals need exercise just like humans, so getting a pet like a dog could help motivate us to get outdoors more on walks and hikes. Many people also train their cats to walk on leashes so that a walk through the neighborhood can be a fun trip together. If you’re really into it, they even sell enclosed strollers for pets.
Pets also give structure to our daily routine. Feeding and bathroom breaks are both things that will happen in a timely manner throughout the day, so while no one is forced to build their lives around their pet, it is common for people to do just that. This structure gives your life more predictability, which is great for individuals who suffer from mental illness, as well as kids.
Pets are also great for children’s mental health. They teach responsibility when it comes to feeding, bathing, and bathroom breaks for your pet. It also teaches them boundaries. Most dogs would love attention around the clock, but cats are more independent and more likely to set boundaries.
Having a pet gives every day meaning to our life. Having a life that depends on us to provide for them gives us purpose. For many people suffering from mental illness, this can be a great motivator.
Before anyone reads this and immediately runs to the pet store, remember that having a pet is a lifelong commitment personally and financially. A pet’s life revolves around it’s owner. For 10+ years, you have to feed, groom, and walk your dog. For 14+ years, you will have to feed, bathe, and change a cat’s litter box. There’s the cost of yearly shots and physicals, and monthly flea prevention. Just like humans, animals can get sick and need medical attention. Be sure before you adopt or buy a pet that it is something you want and can afford.
You should also take your home life into account. Do you work long hours? Do you live in a small apartment? Do you have any physical limitations? Be sure the kind of pet you get fits within the parameters of your life.
Also know that you don’t have to get a pet to get the mental health benefits of having one. If you know by now that owning a pet is not for you, but still want those mental health benefits, look for alternatives. Call your local shelter to see about volunteering. Many shelters need volunteers to play with and socialize the animals in their care, so they have a better chance of getting adopted. Some will even let you “rent” a pet. You would have the animal for the day and return it to the shelter so there’s no real commitment to keeping the animal while still getting the mental health benefits. And no worries; this experience is great for the animal, too.
By: Better Me by Dr. B
Editor: Ariel Thompson
Medical Reviewer: Dr. Tiffany Bell D.O.