5 reasons why having a pet is good for your mental wellbeing

Photo: Daniella Brandy

The most common triggers for mental health issues are social isolation, rejection and stigma, and a staggering 45% of Australians will at some point in their lives suffer from a mental or neurological disorder.

Recent research by Sydney clinical psychologist Dr Leigh Plummer, in partnership with PetSafe Australia, shows that having a pet can actually help mental health sufferers in five specific ways.

“Experiencing a mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, can be a daily battle,” says Dr. Plummer.

“There is some research showing that owning and caring for a pet can help to support your mental health by improving social, emotional and physical wellbeing.”

Anyone with a pet understands that they can be part of the family. They provide love, attention and affection, and can be great listeners when you’re feeling down and need to talk to someone (or something).

Here are the five ways having a pet can be good for your mental wellbeing:

1. It increases your physical activity

Being a pet owner requires you to become more physically active — to take them for walks, to bathe them, to catch them if they escape, and to physically take care of them.

“Whether you are being more active with a pet in the home, or getting out and about, having a pet can increase your level of exercise which in turn has been shown to improve mood, decrease stress, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and enhance physical fitness,” says Dr. Plummer.

2. It increases social interaction and can remove isolation anxiety

Pet ownership can help to boost social interactions and lower isolation issues.

“Having a pet can absolutely increase your social interactions, be it through social media or face to face. Incidental conversations with strangers about your pets can take place on a walk, at the dog park or even on a Facebook Community Pet Group,” says Dr. Plummer.

3. It provides companionship and reduces loneliness in the home

Pets provide 24/7 companionship which helps to increase mood and reduce loneliness for people that live alone.

“The unconditional love that a pet can give you is often a relief to those that have difficulty interaction with others or have low self-esteem,” says Dr. Plummer.

4. It can boost your mood by providing routine and purpose

Owning a pet provides a person with daily routines. Pets need to be fed at regular times, exercised, and taken outside to go to the bathroom.

“It’s not only what our pets do for us, it is also the act of caring for a pet that helps us to feel good,” says Dr. Plummer.

“Giving and caring for others can feel productive and be rewarding. We may also feel useful and needed. Caring for a pet may also temporarily take the focus off ourselves, our worries and negative thoughts.”

5. It can reduce fear and anxiety

Pets are great companions. They can provide those who suffer from fears, anxiety or depression comfort and unconditional support and love with no judgement.

As to what type of pet to own, specific pets suit specific needs.

A large family with young children may choose a medium to large size dog with lots of energy, who can be taken for runs in a park, while an older individual would be better with a smaller pet like a cat which doesn’t require as much exercise.

Dr Plummer says “I don’t think that there are any pets ‘better’ then others to own, it is all up to the individual and what suits your needs.

“What are you hoping to get out of caring for the pet and how will it fit into {or improve} your current lifestyle situation.

“I think every animal has its own individual personality, which makes caring for a pet all the more rewarding!”

If you may be experiencing any mental health concerns, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or your doctor.

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