Pets & Mental Health

Pets are beloved members of our families, but did you know that they can improve your mental health?
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People love their pets. Dogs, cats, reptiles and small rodents are beloved members of families and contribute greatly to overall happiness. However, did you know that pets can help your mental health? In celebration of Mental Health Month and National Pet Month, we wanted to talk about the benefits pets can have on your wellbeing.

To begin with, having a pet can make you more active. For example, people with dogs are more likely to go on walks outside. People with cats may be more likely to play with their pets inside. All of these actions can lead to positive physical health outcomes such as lower blood pressure. We all know that exercise is important but we can forget that the daily actions involved in caring for an animal can contribute to exercise.

Here’s a challenge: try a new activity with your pet that involves movement. Try a new game of fetch or find a new active toy for your small furry friend that gets you up and moving. You will both feel better afterwards!

But what about pets and mental health? Studies have shown that pets can reduce anxiety and stress and boost positive emotions. Pets make wonderful listeners and offer unconditional affection. This can help improve self-confidence and feelings of isolation.

Additionally, pets can help add structure to your day and help you meet new people. Most animals have a daily routine that can help owners feel grounded and focused. Sometimes, when feeling anxious, it can be helpful to focus on what an animal needs to give one a sense of purpose. Having a pet can also expose you to other pet-loving people. Going on walks with your dogs, trying training classes, supporting rescues or joining online pet-loving groups can help spur connections and friendships.

Pets can also help with specific conditions. People with ADHD may benefit from benefit from the routine of having a pet and managing the responsibilities that comes with pet ownership. For those who deal with hyperactivity, having an active dog or cat can be a great way to release energy in a positive manner.[1]

Pets can also be beneficial for people with ASD. The unconditional love that pets provide can be helpful in building skills and confidence. Pets can also be trained to give a sense of calm and reassurance. There are training programs that exist to help train a pet to support someone with ASD or other health concerns.  

Service dogs, in particular, can be of great help for people. In veterans, service dogs can alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and lower levels of depression and social isolation while increasing levels of life satisfaction of overall psychological well-being.[2]

While owning a pet can be a wonderful experience, it is not for everyone. Before getting any pet, one should do extensive research on the needs and care requirements of a particular breed or species. Some dog breeds require much more attention, space and exercise than others. Some reptiles and other species have very specific housing and food needs. Take into consideration every aspect of your own life and the needs of an animal you are interested in to determine if owning a pet, right now, is right for you.

Make sure you can provide for all its needs without inhibiting your own. Pets can be expensive and the financials of owning a pet can add to your stress rather than take away. Perhaps, being owning a dog, try a pet that needs less attention and see if your lifestyle suits the addition of an animal. Talk to other pet owners and ask what the pros and cons of owning a pet entail.

So, what if you want a pet but can’t own one right now? If your hosing allows for it, consider fostering pets that you love. Many rescues have fostering opportunities for people who can care for pets but are not ready to commit to owning one for life. Fostering can give a wonderful sense of purpose.

If you want have a pet in your home, look for volunteer opportunities at local shelters, rescues and sanctuaries. Shelters and animal sanctuaries are often looking for volunteers to help care for animals who have often come from neglectful situations. You can also make friendships and other positive relationships in these environments.

Finally, look into pet sitting. If you have friends who own pets but sometimes travel, ask if you can pet-sit for them. This can give you a more realistic look into pet ownership and can be of great help to friends or family who struggle to care for their pets when they are way or travelling.

Pet ownership can have a positive influence on mental health but it should never be taken lightly. During Mental Health Month and National Pet Month, learn how animals can improve your health and how you can improve theirs.

Don’t forget to support our online fundraiser, Pet Palooza! Make your vote by donation for any pet to help support substance use prevention and local humane societies. If you wish to support a shelter pet, use the “Adopt” tab to see which pets where entered by a local shelter! Visit www.kbhmaine.org/pet-palooza!


[1]Pets and Mental Health. (Rev 2022, February 15). Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/pets-and-mental-health

[2]Feldman, S. (Retrieved 2022, May 12). How Science Supports Pets for Improving Your Mental Health. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/blog/how-science-supports-pets-improving-your-mental-health

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