Mental benefits of pets

By: Sarah VonBerge

It is still unknown how and why pets seem to help with mental health. Pets don’t only affect your mental health, but, depending on the kind, also affect your physical health. Pets have been shown to decrease stress, improve heart health, and also teach children emotional and social skills.

It is estimated that 68% of all US households have some sort of pet. Studies have shown that having a pet has decreased the stress causing hormone, called cortisol, lowers blood pressure, boosts mood, reduces loneliness, and increases feelings of support. Owning something like a fish or guinea pig would help mainly with your mental health whereas having a pet like a dog will also affect your physical health. NIH is looking into creating a wide scale survey to find how the bond with their animal helps the owner(s).

Animals serve as forms of comfort as well. Sometimes watching fish swim can bring up a feeling of calmness. Therapy animals are brought around a lot, especially therapy dogs. They are often brought into nursing homes and hospitals to help comfort people.

However, people need to make sure to figure out how to bring animals around others in hospitals and nursing homes safely. Even though animals can help reduce stress and boost moods, they also bring germs and we need to make sure that animals don’t spread deadly germs between animals and patients.

Dogs have also been used to aid in the classroom. Dogs have been shown to, again, reduce stress and depression but have also recently been shown to help focus those who are affected by ADHD. Researchers took 2 groups of children with ADHD to see how dogs affect them.

In the 12 week long experiment, one group read to puppets for 30 minutes once a week and one group read to dogs for 30 minutes once a week. At the end, it was shown that the group who read to the dogs improved at cooperation, volunteering, social skills and sharing more than the group who read to puppets.

Another study found that kids with autism became calmer when playing with guinea pigs. During the 10 minute supervised play time with the guinea pigs, their anxiety levels dropped and they became better at social interactions and were more engaged with their peers.

One reason animals can help humans is because they bring new responsibilities. Even if your mental health is causing you to neglect yourself, you can not neglect your animal, or they will get sick or even die. Being able to recognize animals’ signs of stress or fatigue will all reflect on being able to recognize other people’s emotions.

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