Are you a furry baby mom? Or maybe a pet papa? Those loyal companions instill so much joy and unconditional love, but did you know that they can do so much more than keep you company?
Pets and mental health at a glance
On the surface level, their companionship can provide a sense of security and the mutual need the pets have for their owners and vice versa allows for the increased sense of purpose. This is valuable for those who may live alone and the older populations, especially when owning a pet can help in socializing, when talking to other pet owners on walks, or getting supplies in the pet store!
And of course, taking care of a pet comes with a plethora of new responsibilities, but this in turn can add structure to people’s days, where it helps in solidifying a daily routine and can instill a sense of achievement everyday, improving your mental health!
Playing with, or just being around animals, even just looking into their eyes, have been shown to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase the feel-good neurotransmitters of oxytocin and dopamine, altogether creating a more positive atmosphere. This nurtures the sense of joy, goodwill, and happiness. Pets are able to ease loneliness, reduce anxiety, depression, and blood pressure, as well as become an asset in the prevention of heart disease!
Something for all parts of life!
The power of a pet can be multifaceted and well rounded, where the benefits of pets can influence all areas of life! For example, 40% of working Americans say that their jobs get in the way of their health, but pets in the workplace, like a therapy dog, a company aquarium, or even a store cat, reduce stress overall and improve employee quality of life. In fact, the pet doesn’t even need to be there in person! It’s been shown that if a dog or cat shows up in a virtual meeting, coworkers will rank the owner higher on trust, and an overall increased sense of team cohesion and support.
It’s not one type fits all, in terms of a needs-based furry friend. For example, if there’s a need for stress reduction, watching the swimming of fish could result in feelings of calmness, whereas if there was a need for physical activity, walking a dog could increase activity levels. Every animal brings valuable benefits! These fluffy companions can also be lucrative for those living with a specific condition. For instance, people living with ADHD can benefit from the structure of taking care of a pet, the extra physical activity of walking with a dog or running with a cat allowing children living with ADHD to release excess energy. Those living with autism can benefit from the relationship formed with pets that can build social skills with confidence, as well as providing a solace from potential sensory overload.
Reporting for duty!
Animal assisted therapy is an umbrella term for the various different ways that therapists will utilize the bond formed between human and animal to assist clients or patients.
There are therapy animals that undergo temperament testing, behavioral training, and are registered with a therapy animal organization. These are usually beloved family dogs that volunteer “part time” as a therapy animal. While these can be any animals, dogs and cats are most commonly used.
Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are animals that provide comfort to their owners by simply existing. They do not undergo any specific training, but are still lucrative in the aid of emotional regulation and increased happiness.
Psychiatric service dogs, or PSDs, undergo intense training that helps people living with mental illness. They are trained to aid owners with coping skills in times of stress, and can recognize the potential signs of danger that can help in the prevention of escalating situations. For example, alerting and calming their owner before a panic attack, and even being able to provide deep pressure therapy assistance. These dogs work and are trained specifically for their owners needs, and can only be handled by their owner!
The distinction of the three types of animal assisted therapies can allow people to make informed decisions based on their needs. Although having a pet could be extremely beneficial, it’s not something someone should decide on a whim! No matter what the animal is, take care to consider its needs and make sure you have enough energy, time, and space to care for it! If owning one is not a possibility, spend some time with friends’ pets, whatever they may be! There are also services that allow people to pet-sit or play with animals that aren’t theirs for an amount of time, and local animal shelters are often seeking volunteers!