If you’re the owner of a cat, dog, rabbit, guinea pig or another animal, you probably already know the comfort and companionship having a pet brings.
What you may not know is that some studies suggest having a pet has a positive impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
Although a lot of the research about pet ownership and mental health isn’t from randomised controlled trials – which are the most robust studies – there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that owning a pet is good for your mental wellbeing. But most of us who have a pet don’t need science to tell us that having our cat or dog snuggled up on our lap at the end of the day makes us happy, because we know it already!
Here are the top five ways having a pet can improve your mental wellbeing:
1. Pets may help reduce depression and anxiety
Some studies show that owning a pet can help to reduce depression and anxiety. This can be through providing a sense of purpose and self-worth by caring for someone other than just yourself, and from the sense of calm when sitting and stroking your pet.
2. Pets help establish a daily routine
Finding it hard to get out of bed and get motivated each morning? Owning a pet, especially a dog who needs to be walked every day, can help with your daily routine as you schedule it around your pet's needs. Having a hungry pet nudging you out of bed each morning isn’t a bad way to start the day.
3. Pets provide constant companionship
The impact of isolation and loneliness felt by many people can be reduced by having physical contact with animals. Having someone to talk to – even if they can’t talk back – can be beneficial if you’ve got a lot on your mind.
4. Being outdoors and in nature
We know that getting outdoors and being in nature is good for our mental health. Being outside with your pet – walking your dog, cleaning rabbit or guinea pig cages or even collecting the eggs from your chickens – gets you outside and into nature.
5. Socialising with other people
Having a pet can help owners stay connected with other people. Going for a daily walk with your dog can lead to conversations with other dog owners, or you may get involved in animal clubs or classes. Connecting with other people helps to improve your mental wellbeing.
Pets and mental health Mental Health Foundation, UK
The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems – a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence BMC Psychiatry, UK, 2018
How dogs can help with mental health – Mind boosting benefits of dog ownership Dog Owner
Pets are mostly good for our mental health The Mental Elf Blog
Five ways to wellbeing Mental Health Foundation, NZ
How a dog can help with depression thedoggypedia.com, US, 2020