Sending a big thank you to the junior copywriter on my team, Sarah Kaufmann, for repurposing my YouTube video on the ways pets improve your mental health into this super handy blog post!
Pets, especially dogs (but I’m biased), are incredibly beneficial for our mental and physical health. There’s a reason why we call them our best friends! While these reasons are practically unlimited, I’m going to stick to the 7 main health benefits I’ve discovered since adopting Pepito.
1. Pets motivate you to get moving
Every day, you have to walk your dog at least once. Even if you haven’t got the energy to go outside, your pup will ensure it happens. This is especially helpful for those who experience mental illness and have difficulty leaving the house or getting out of bed. We care so deeply about our animals that regardless, we’ll find a way to make it happen.
2. Pets will push you out of your comfort zone
Intentional or not, dogs will push you to be more outgoing on your walks around the neighbourhood. They’re the perfect icebreaker; especially if you cross paths with another dog owner. You can talk about anything from their breed to their personality. It makes the conversation organic, rather than scrambling to think of what to say. And breaking down communication barriers between people is a key way that pets improve your health and wellbeing.
Pushing you to be more social isn’t the only way they’ll get you outside your comfort zone. They can encourage you to get active too! If they’re super energetic, try agility training with them, or flyball (if you’ve never watched it before, check it out here!)
3. Pets are your companion
When you get home after work, even if you live alone, you have this peppy, fuzzy creature that’s so excited to see you. Your pet knows just how valuable you are.
No matter how you’re feeling that day, no matter how your boss treats you, (if you’re not one of my entrepreneurs 😉) your pet will ask for your attention, and you have to give it to them, right? At some point, you’re going to want to give them the love that they deserve.
Plus, having that connection helps reduce loneliness. Fun fact: people who suffer from a heart attack typically live longer if they have the companionship of a dog afterwards. How amazing is that?
4. Pets improve your health by helping you live in the present
I love spending time with my friends, and their pets. For example, my friend Sarah’s cat, Amy, and I adore each other. See the photo on the right for evidence:
Cats are amazing at living in the present moment. They’re excited about playing games or about getting a tummy scratch… nope, actually I’m talking about dogs again. But cats really do live in the present, and that’s incredibly helpful for someone like me who lives with generalized anxiety disorder!
The power of presence is that in this exact moment with your dog, cat, chameleon, whoever it is, you feel safe. They’re likely to be more carefree, and enjoy playing games, which is another fantastic way of getting you to find joy in the present too.
5. Pets teach us how to be caring
Pets improve our health by giving us another being to take care of. We make sure they’re getting their medicine, that they sleep enough, that we take them to the vet for regular checkups… These are fantastic lessons and reminders to take care of ourselves, too.
I know that I need to be in the best mental and physical state I can because I have someone who relies on me. Acknowledging that encourages me to take care of myself, so I can be there for them too.
I think it’s similar to a parent-child relationship. Perhaps before they had kids, a parent might’ve smoked, but because they wanted to see their kids graduate, or have children, they quit.
For many, pets are the first stepping stone to developing our own family. They’re our first dependent who needs us to be in sound mental, physical, even financial shape. We don’t have to be perfect, but we need to prioritize it.
6. Pets improve your health by adding structure to your days
Pets need us to provide them with routine. Some need a morning and an evening walk, while others need even more than that.
Many animals will jump on you, and act as your personal alarm. No matter how drained we are, we have to get out of bed.
We’ve got to put food in their bowls, and make sure they go outside. We know that there are certain things we must do every single day to keep them happy.
It changes the overall experience of the day, because you’ve got to get moving for someone who’s relying on you, and who can’t do it themselves. It’s far more likely that you’ll keep moving and move onto the next habitual thing. Maybe that’s having a shower, or sitting at your desk on time. Either way, these can be majorly helpful for improving your mental health day after day.
7. Pets bring you back to your body
Now, I don’t think everybody experiences this, but there are studies that show that cats purring has a therapeutic effect. It reminds me of my friend Sarah’s cat, Amy, lying on my chest, looking at me and purring simultaneously. There’s something deeply soothing about that.
Having something in the physical realm, to bring you back into the moment, is incredibly powerful and pets are the cuddliest way to do that! That’s a definite bonus for me.
My dog, Pepito, is learning how to be a supportive personal therapy dog. (You can learn more about his training to become a personal therapy dog for anxiety, in my previous posts in this blog series.)
One of the things we’re working towards is getting him to recognize when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or frustrated. For example, when he notices me crying, he’ll tap me, and ask to get up and lay on me. That deep tissue pressure provides me with a lot of relief, and there’s nothing more soothing than a big hug from someone you love.
Concluding how pets improve your health!
You can see how there’s both scientific research and experiential knowledge on the amazing benefits of having a pet.
Before you consider adopting, I’d strongly suggest that you ensure you know how to take care of them and that they’re appropriate pets. As long as you welcome them with lots of love, care, and patience, I think that those physical and mental health benefits will come naturally.
I would love to hear about the relaxing experiences you might have with your pet. Or if you’re in the midst of trying to find a pet, I’d love to know as well in the comments below!