Elizabeth Seabolt-Esparza, LPC
The Important Connection Between Pets and Our Mental Health: Five Reasons to Adopt a Pet
Updated: Mar 28
If there is one thing I have noticed since the pandemic, it is been the connection my clients have with their pets and how their pets impact their mental health. Since starting telehealth, I have seen cats, dogs, iguanas, snakes, and one afternoon I watched as my client was attacked and chased around their yard by an angry chicken. While the scenario with the chicken may not sound like a positive experience, it certainly resulted in a lot of laughter for both of us. From my own experience, I can attest to the fact that my pets have done wonders for my mental health. If you do a quick google search for pets and oxytocin, you will find multiple articles that discuss how petting your dog or cat reduces production of the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the “feel good” hormone oxytocin. Cuddling with them after a difficult day has become a type of self-care. I see this with my clients too.
Particularly for my clients who struggle with trauma and/or clients who struggle with isolation and alienation, pets offer solace. There has been much research on how pets affect their human’s mental and physical health. When I see the way a client’s face lights up when they pet their pets, or even talk about them, I don’t need to see peer reviewed journal articles on the subject matter to convince me of the positive impact pets have on mental health. There are many reasons to get a pet, but I am going to talk about five really good ones.
1) You are giving a loving animal a home and potentially saving a life.
You may be wondering what this has to do with mental health, but sometimes doing something good, and something that takes your mind off of your own problems, can lift the spirits. At first you will feel like you are saving their life, but eventually it may seem like they actually saved yours.
2) They give you a reason to wake up every day.
I’ve heard multiple people, not just clients, say that their pets are the reason they keep living. They make you get up every morning and they are a welcome sight when you first open your eyes. Particularly for people with depression, they can help take your mind off of your own issues because you are caring for a living creature other than yourself. Sometimes when caring for a pet who is vulnerable and depends on you, you begin to learn how to care for yourself as well.
3) They give you unconditional love and they teach you how to love, and therefore be a better human.
There is something about having another living creature love you so openly and purely that you begin to question your own negative self-talk. When I was younger and going through a particularly awful breakup, I found myself in a dark place. I found it hard to view myself as worthy of love. I decided to adopt a dog and having him in my life completely changed me. He became my copilot; it was me and my dog against the world. While the breakup still hurt and put me on an emotional rollercoaster, coming home to that scruffy little face and feeling him breathing next to me at night helped soothe and heal my broken heart. The way he loved me was so unconditional that I began to learn to love myself again.
4) They make you laugh.
Just the other day my little dachshund mix came running into the room I was in and proceeded to fart loudly. He then whipped his head around and glared at his backside and then growled at it like it wasn’t attached to the rest of his body. It’s hard not to laugh when these shenanigans become a part of your everyday life. Also, it is believed that laughter increases endorphins which, much like oxytocin, make you happy.
5) They are good for your overall health.
You have to walk them (if you live someplace where this is possible) which gives you reason to exercise regularly. Even if you have a fenced in yard and can’t walk them, they will encourage you to go outside with them, play with them, and get some vitamin D, which is known to help with depression as well as a host of other health issues. Furthermore, exercise releases endorphins, and as Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.”
It is worth noting that Elle Woods also has a dog. Be like Elle Woods. Get a dog, increase your endorphins, and don’t kill your husband.
All joking aside, consider going to your nearest animal shelter to meet your new family member so you can improve your overall mental health and maybe live your best life.