Ask any pet owner whether their beloved fur friend makes a difference to their mental health, and they’ll undoubtedly say yes. Pet parents have known it for years. Plenty of studies show pets and mental health are linked. That is, having pets can improve your mental health and positively contribute to wellbeing.
So rest assured, science completely agrees your dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig, bird, or other pet is key to keeping you happy and healthy.
As animal lovers who talk to customers every day about their wellbeing in times of stress, we’re unsurprised to hear it. There’s not much better than a loyal furry friend to boost your mood.
Here are five ways our pets and mental health go together.
Pets can help improve depression
Pets and mental health really do go hand in hand. Research has shown playing with a pet leads to higher levels of serotonin and dopamine – the “happy chemicals” which make you feel calm, relaxed, and content.
And then there’s the sense of structure they bring. A lot of pets, but especially dogs, require a consistent and regular routine. They need to be fed and exercised on a regular schedule. This in itself can give you a reason to get out of bed in the mornings.
After all, most dogs and other pets can’t feed or open the door for itself. Unless you’re the owner of an assistance dog, of course!
Pets can improve mental health through better sleep
Sleeping with a dog next to you can result in fewer sleep disturbances, according to this study. Plus, cuddling with your dog decreases your cortisol levels – and cortisol is the hormone responsible for keeping us awake.
If you’ve got a cat, there’s more good news. Not only does sleeping with them provide you with a sense of content and security, but there’s measurable benefits too. And it’s all in the purr. The vibration actually has healing properties – really! Their purring can relieve stress and lower blood pressure. Other things a cat’s purr can help with includes:
- Pain reduction
- Muscle growth
- Muscle strain
- Joint flexibility
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
And then there’s the added benefit that a cat’s purr is kind of like a white noise machine, lulling you into dreamland quickly and calmly. Plus, we can vouch for the fact that having an extra warm body in the bed makes you feel happy and loved.
Pets fulfil the basic human need for touch
Humans have an inherent need for touch. And while we respond well to touch from other humans, we also respond well to touch from pets. Almost all small children are enthralled when they see animals, and can’t wait to touch them. But even as adults, we rely on social touch.
In fact, touch starvation is real. When we don’t get enough social touch, it can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. With so many people having to isolate and/or work remotely with the pandemic, it’s becoming even more of an issue.
But luckily pets can help. So yet again, pets and mental health go together. Stroking, hugging, patting, and generally touching an animal can make you feel calm and soothed. It’s an effective tool to combat stress. After all, who doesn’t feel better after a hug when you’ve had a particularly bad or stressful day?
Pets help mental health by facilitating social interaction
Often, social interactions form a major part of mental health. And this is yet another way in which pets and mental health are linked. If you have a dog, for instance, you probably have to exercise it at the local dog park or beach. This means an opportunity to run into a few familiar faces for some quick conversation at the very least.
If your pet doesn’t enjoy exercise or playtime outside your property boundary, they can still give you opportunities to socialise. Perhaps posting cats of Instagram photos has led you to connect with like-minded cat lovers? Or joining a passionate online pet community has enabled you to bond with like-minded aficionados of a particular dog breed?
Or maybe, your pet just makes for an interesting topic of conversation when you meet others at various points throughout weekly life. Whatever the case, they can definitely play a role in helping you build social networks and in making conversation.
Pets can help with specific disabilities
The positive links between pets and mental health are so well accepted that animals are regularly used for therapy, and to aid in living with disability. And we’re not just talking about the obvious things like guide dogs helping the blind.
Research has shown pets can also help improve memory in people with dementia. On top of that, they can provide some relief of symptoms like irritability, depression, and agitation.
Most of us know people with autism often respond well to pets too. Studies have shown companion animals can help people living with autism by alleviating loneliness, reducing stress, improving family function, and improving social skills.
And horses are frequently used in therapeutic centres too – sometimes for riding, but often just for touch and bonding.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how pets can help with specific disabilities. But in various studies, companion animals have been beneficial for a wide range of people living with disabilities including limited mobility, PTSD, dementia, autism, ADHD, and others.
Pets, mental health, and insurance
Your animal companion gives you so much in life – why not give back to them with Blue Badge pet insurance. It will protect your finances so you can make quick, easy decisions around quality medical treatment for your pet.
If you’re living with disability, you might qualify for one of our specialist insurance offerings. Beyond pet insurance (where everyone with a disability parking permit gets a hefty discount), we can insure your mobility equipment like wheelchairs and we have insurance for disability converted cars.
Plus, if you use accessible parking then we offer up to 25% discount on car insurance premiums for disability parking permit holders. Time for a quote?