Wellness Within: Pets and their effect on mental and physical health

It is a cold day in Southern California, and with predictions of upcoming rain storms and winds ahead, and you would normally decide to lie in bed, perhaps watch a new Netflix series, and eat varieties of snacks. That all changes when your dog walks into the room with bounds of energy, begging to be walked. Suddenly, you forget about that new season of “Grey’s Anatomy” that you were planning to binge, you grab your winter coat and shoes, and head outside to go for a walk with your pup. Though the weather is too cold for your liking and the Netflix screen is still displayed on your list, a calming walk through the neighborhood with your dog is more tranquil and anxiety-reducing than being shut up in your room for the third day in a row. Despite this situation being fictionalized, the general theme and idea are still correct: pets help better your mental and physical health.
Pets, whether it is a dog, cat, or any animal, can help provide companionship and comfort in one’s life, which can overall help better mental health and lower anxiety, depression, and stress. Research done by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that pets can not only help with depression, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but with loneliness and socializing, and even autism. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression. Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can give owners a chance to relax and calm their minds.”
The Mental Health Foundation conducted a study with another organization, Cats Protection, to fully see whether or not pets helped with mental health. The study involved over 600 people that were a mixture of people who had a preference for cats, and others who liked other animals more than cats. Half of the correspondents described themselves as currently having a mental health problem. The survey found that 87% of the people involved who owned the cats felt that it had a positive effect on their wellbeing, and 76% of people felt that they could cope with everyday life much better, because of the pets around them. Although this survey only experimented with cats, it gives additional statistics that support just how beneficial pets are to mental health.
CHS junior Chloe Starke, owner of two dogs, also believes her mental health has benefited from being around such loyal pups.
“Sometimes if I’m ever feeling lonely, stressed or overwhelmed they’re just always there, even though they don’t fully understand what’s wrong,” Starke said. “My pets are honestly comforting to me whether it’s playing with them with their toys or taking them for a walk; it’s something small that can make my day just a little bit better.”
Not only does having a faithful companion like a dog betters one’s mental health, but research has proven that it also benefits physical health as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees with such a statement, and says that owning a pet can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize, which are the three things many nowadays have a lack of opportunity with due to quarantine. Studies have shown that such a bond between people and their pets can increase health benefits, like decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels, and increase opportunities for exercise. There are also studies that show owning a pet can improve your success rate after a heart attack.
“I 100% think my pets have helped with physical health!” Starke said. “Similarly to mental health, taking a walk or playing with them also allows me to get a bit of exercise into my day, and it’s fun too, of course. I also think sleeping with a dog also helps me sleep a lot better compared to if I’m sleeping alone.”
Pets: companions so simple and loyal humans might just take them for granted. Whether it is a cat, dog, or even a fish or hamster, pets have shown benefits with not only mental but physical health, studies showing that owning a pet decreases depression and instead increases health and happiness. So if you’re thinking about going on that walk with your furry friend — go ahead, it might just be beneficial for your health.