Those of us with a furry family member know the love and joy a pet brings to everyday life. Pets have been an integral part of my mental health journey. I have been blessed to grow up with family dogs and cats who bring me such happiness. What is the science behind the therapeutic benefits of having a pet? And how can a therapy animal soften the symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses?
Let’s dig into why PET.LOVE works to ease the brain, pain, and stress of living with mental illness.
Petting a dog, cat or other beloved pet can release endorphins in the brain, oxytocin specifically, that calm anxiety and ease mental tension. Oxytocin is thought of as the “love hormone” and brings about that gushy feeling you get when you pet your animal. This hormone is associated with childbirth, so its no wonder that we often think of fur babies as our own kin!
Having an animal, especially an emotional support or service pet, can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation associated with mental disorders like depression. Petting your furry friend takes away feelings of alienation, encouraging pet owners with disabilities by providing support. A service dog, for instance, can aid someone suffering from social anxiety to get out of the house and feel comfortable being around crowds of people, which otherwise felt overwhelming.
There is a physical benefit to petting a therapy animal, as well. Touching your four-legged friend can lower your blood pressure, and improve your cardiovascular wellness. Animals help reduce chronic pain, and have a healing effect on the body. A relaxation response is automatically triggered when touching your pet, and in some cases, can improve medication effectiveness or even reduce the need for high dosages (though there is still a need for research on the positive correlation).
For the Love of Pets!
Whether you live with mental illness, chronic pain, or simply have a love of animals, PET.LOVE does more than just soothe the soul. There are real benefits to owning a therapy animal, or being visited by one. Feel-good hormones, positive reinforcement, and physical wellness are among the good side-effects of being around your favorite furry ones.
For more on the great ways that AAT (Animal-Assisted Therapy) helps those with mental and physical illnesses, check out this article from UCLA Health.
I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. — Winston Churchill