The effects of animals on our mental health

Photo by Christy Regalado

After a long, exhausting day at the office—or at this point your kitchen table—just about nothing brightens one’s mood like the friendly greeting of an unbiased dog. 

You know who doesn’t care about your road rage? Tickles, the loyal Basset Hound. What about your subordinate deviance at work? Oscar the chameleon is none the wiser! 

Our pets have a carnal, innate ability of making our day’s better. Sure, rabbit’s smell like hot garbage and dog’s lick their junk like we’re taking it away, but these creatures love us unconditionally. Even a goldfish notices when you enter the room.

The research behind these claims are mixed. There’s no guarantee that adopting a 200- pound Great Dane will cure your depression. But that animal needs attention and care, giving their owner a newfound sense of purpose—provided the owner is dedicated to this animal.

There is something known as The Pet Effect, described as “the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that positively impacts the health and well-being of both,” by Mental Health America. 

A 2016 study conducted by MHA showed that “74 per cent of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75 per cent of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved because of the pets in their lives.”

And these statistics make a lot of sense once you break down why these animals have such strong effects on our well-being. “Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” said Dr. Ann Berger, researcher at the News in Health Clinical Center in Maryland in an article.

The effects of these animals have the ability to alter the chemistry of our brain. 

According to MHA, the effects of pets can “[include] a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain.” Oxytocin is commonly referred to as the “love” or “cuddle” hormone.

MHA elaborated by stating that animals and therapy pets can “help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.”

These are some pretty big claims, but the science behind them makes sense. 

“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Dr. Ann Berger said to NIH. “All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”

I know we’ve talked a lot about dogs thus far, but who’s to say cats, rabbits or even horses can’t have a similar effect? Anything that brings you joy should be considered a positive influence in your life—yes, even rats.

Nothing betters my day like waking up to the wet nose of our family dog, Reese. I can confidently say I would throw just about every single one of my friends right off a cliff if it meant saving that dog. 

His optimistic, often goofy- looking mug represents that a pure heart is more simplistic than most of us imagine. Sure, he loves us for the food we give him and the endless belly rubs, but he is undyingly forgiving. 

A dog doesn’t hold a grudge over a couple of curse words or the odd time you forget to let them out for a pee. They’re just happy to have you carry their feces around your hip for four kilometers.

So, let’s appreciate our pets for all they unknowingly do for us. Feel no shame reaping the benefits of an easily excitable Pomeranian.

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