5 Ways Pets Relieve Depression

by | Interesting |

Photo by Jiri Hodan.

When I was a little girl, my cat was my best friend. My mom always said we had a special bond, because no matter where I was in the house, if I started crying she would run to my side, sit quietly, and let me cuddle her until I calmed down.

I know I’m not the only one who has had that experience with a pet. The bonds we build with animals are special, and can reach beyond an emotional level, to a psychological one.

This is why it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that animals can be used as therapy for people with anything from depression, to PTSD. Here are 5 ways animals help relieve depression.

5 ways pets relieve depression

Never alone: When a person is feeling lonely, many doctors will recommend getting a pet as a cure. Pets give us the feeling we are not alone, and have someone offering unconditional love to us.

depression, cats, pet therapy
Photo by Joaquim Alves Gaspar.

Get us going: The Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative says dogs are particularly great pets for depression because they force a person to get out and about for walks with the dog. The initiative says, “Thus they are also conversation initiators, helping to alleviate social isolation. Further, pets require daily responsibility to meet their basic needs such as food and water and they bring structure to a person’s daily activities.”

Calming presence: Even a pet’s presence can do wonders for calming you down, studies show pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate both before and while performing stressful mental tasks.

A new perspective: Pets can also help us see the world with new eyes. Any dog owners have probably experienced taking your pet for a walk and seeing passerby smile at you, just because you have a dog. Similarly, when I get home from a stressful day, having my cat come plop themselves down on my lap makes me smile and calms any anxiety I’d been feeling.

Hugs/Physical touch: Another thing pets promote is physical touch, which is shown to be effective in reducing stress and depression. This article says, “Hugging floods our bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rates.” – Psych Central.

Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, is recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health as a legitimate way to treat depression, and other mood disorders.

This is probably why Universities across Canada have started bringing in “Puppy rooms” around exam time. The rooms are available for students to come in and hang out with puppies, to play and pet them.

I remember going to my University’s puppy room, and finding a line out the door and around the corner, of students waiting for their turn to pet the puppies. Clearly, this is a method that works.

To learn more about pet therapy and how it helps people with depression, check out HABRI’s research website.

– Emily Cook, Communications Coordinator, Ontario SPCA.