Pets and Mental Health

I have two furry family members: a fourteen year old bichon-poodle cross (Ruffles) and a one year old chihuahua-shiba inu cross (Marvin). The stories of how these two joined us are amusing, but the shortened version is that I believed my daughter (both times) when she said that it would be her dog, and she would walk it, and feed it, and…. This may sound familiar to some of you. Nevertheless, Ruffles and Marvin are part of us now, and we love them.

Now, clearly, Ruffles and Marvin are adorable, but that isn’t the only thing that they have going for them. It turns out that your pet can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. How?

  • Pets can promote exercise and social interaction. Three times a day, regardless of the weather, Ruffles and Marvin go for their walk. Often, while we are out in the fresh air, we meet with other dogs and their owners. While the dogs say hello, my neighbours and I will chat.
  • They can give you a sense of security. Marvin may be small, but he has a big bark! There is no way anyone could come close without him letting me know.
  • Pets offer a distraction. When you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, it is easy to get caught up in negative thoughts. When Ruffles brings me a toy because he wants to play, I am pulled out of my rumination and into the present moment.
  • They are good company. I don’t live alone, but I still appreciate the enthusiastic welcome I get when I arrive home. I also love having a little leg warmer cuddled up on me while I watch television on these cold winter evenings.
  • Pets increase feel-good hormones. Serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin (which combats the stress hormone cortisol) are released when you interact with your pets, and petting your dog for 15 minutes can also reduce blood pressure.

If you don’t already have a pet, I’m not suggesting that you run out and get one. There are many things to consider, including the time and expense involved. But if you do have one (or more), an extra treat may be in order.

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