How having a pet helps your mental health

After a challenging day, coming home to the sound of your dog barking happily or having your cat rub their head against your ankles provides a welcome relief. Your pet loves you unconditionally, and their presence in your life can have a positive, long-lasting influence on your physical and mental health. Here’s how.

Your pet provides companionship.

Chronic feelings of isolation and loneliness may eventually lead to depression—especially when facing difficult life events. Caring for a pet helps you focus on other things, as well as feeling useful and loved. Many pet owners will also talk to their cat or dog, and find it helps them express their emotions or find solutions to their problems. Your pet is never too busy to hear what you have to say.

Pets add structure and routine to your day.

If you’re working from home on a less structured schedule, it’s easy to lose track of time, stay in bed late or skip meals. But most pets expect to be fed at regular hours, and dogs will likely let you know when it’s time for a walk. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed by outside events, this type of routine can help you achieve some stability, predictability and control over your own life.

Petting your dog or cat helps you relax.

The physical sensation of stroking or cuddling your pet releases serotonin and dopamine, hormones which help you feel calm and relaxed. It can also lower blood pressure and cortisol, the hormone responsible for making you feel stressed or anxious.

Your pet helps you socialize.

Pets are the ultimate icebreaker. When walking with your dog, you’ll constantly run into other pet owners and strike up conversations, or get asked by families if the children may pet your furry buddy. If your cat decides to join in on your videoconference calls, colleagues may find it funny and start asking questions. Having a pet creates opportunities for this kind of morale-boosting small talk.

Your pet helps you live in the now.

Your cat or your dog doesn’t care about what happened earlier today or last week, and doesn’t worry about what might happen in the future. They’re happy right now because it’s feeding time. Or play time. Or grooming time. Or snuggling time. When caring for your pet, be mindful and appreciate simply sharing this moment with them.

Your dog helps you stay fit.

Exercising daily is a healthy habit which helps raise energy levels and improve sleep quality. Because most dogs require regular walks and physical activity, they’re a great way to help you reach your fitness goals. It’s more fun to walk, jog, run or even bike when you have a four-legged training partner to cheer you on. And even when it’s cold, dark or raining, or if you just don’t feel like it today, one look at those big, puppy dog eyes may be just the motivation you need to go outside anyway.