By Jennifer Woolwine

How Pets can Improve our Mental Health

Health + Wellness

baghdad to barnyard

November 4, 2020

Pet therapy pintrest pin.png

I struggle with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, migraines, psychogenic non epileptic seizures and more. I was diagnosed after I served 14 months in Iraq. From my experience, animals have improved my physical and mental health.

Pets provide companionship, unconditional love, and affection. Research shows animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. In a recent survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 75% of pet owners said having a pet improved their mental health.

How pets impact your mental health:

  • Petting an animal releases serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin- mood boosters

  • Reduces loneliness

  • Increase mental stimulation

  • Recall memories in patients with head injuries or Alzheimer’s

  • Provides a distraction

  • Fulfills human need for touch

  • Improves your mood

  • Elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine

  • Help provide social support

  • Lower overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Higher levels of life satisfaction

Therapy dog.png

For me, dealing with depression is a constant battle. Depression can be unpredictable with an overwhelming number of symptoms. It can be difficult to get out of bed, limited motivation, memory loss, irritability, social isolation and fatigue. I have a hobby farm with over forty animals and they depend on me. Having to feed, water and care for them gives me purpose and a routine. Animals encourage you to be more active, which is essential in dealing with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Waylon and Me hug.jpg

How pets impact your physical health

  • Lowers blood pressure

  • Slows breathing down while anxious

  • Reduces pain

  • Reduces the amount of medications prescribed

  • Motivates patients recovering from surgery

  • Helps relaxation during physical therapy or exercising

  • Encourages children with autism to engage more

  • Lowers cholesterol levels

  • Fewer doctor visits in individuals over the age of 65

  • Decreases cortisol which is a stress related hormone

Pets help manage depression by giving unconditional love and acceptance. My animals can tell when I am having a rough day and always know when to offer emotional support. Animals are excellent at reading cues, body language and delivering a soothing presence without judgement. Pets just enjoy being in your company and they do not care what you are wearing or that you have not brushed your hair.

It can be intimidating to discuss our troubles with a stranger, but an animal can break that barrier and offer a calming effect. Having a pet means routine and structure, which are supportive factors for coping with depression and anxiety.

There are three basic types of pet therapy:

1.  Therapeutic Visitation is the most common type of pet therapy in which owners take their personal pets to visit health care facilities. A visit from a pet can motivate hospitalized patients to get better so they can return home to their own pets.

2.  Animal Assisted Therapy involves animals specially trained to assist physical and occupational therapists with their patients. AAT is a formal, structured set of sessions that helps people reach specific goals in their treatment. Research shows pets can improve limb mobility and fine motor skills.

3. Facility Therapy animals often reside at the care center and are trained to monitor patients with Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injuries and other mental illnesses. They learn the limitations and boundaries of the residents and help keep them safe.

Types of Animals Used in Therapy

Dogs are the most popular animals used in therapy and they come in all shapes and sizes. The classic breeds used are Labradors and Golden Retrievers, but that does not mean other breeds cannot make a good therapy animal. If a dog is friendly and knows basic obedience commands, they can become a therapy dog.

10 Best Service Dog Breeds

  1. Labrador Retriever

  2. Golden Retriever

  3. Pitbull

  4. Poodle

  5. Great Dane

  6. Boxer

  7. Border Collie

  8. Pomeranian

  9. Bernese Mountain Dogs

  10. German Shepard

Equines are fantastic therapy animals. Equines are frequently used to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, teens with behavioral issues and substance abuse at addiction treatment centers. Research shows riding horses can lower blood pressure and aid in anger management. Horses can also teach responsibility and how to build healthy relationships.

Cats are another animal used in therapy. They are convenient, can walk on a leash, and are frequently used in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. They provide comfort to the elderly and they are a good option for people afraid of dogs. However, cats are not large enough to assist in medical emergencies like dogs can.

Rabbits are not just cuddly and cute animals but a wonderful alternative as a therapy animal especially for people fearful of dogs and cats. They are easy to transport, quiet, small, intelligent and they can be litter box trained.

A well socialized rabbit that enjoys being held and can wear a harness, would be a good candidate as a therapy animal.

Parrots are a popular option as emotional support animals. They can speak words and phrases and they are highly intelligent.

Reptiles have been used to treat eating disorders, substance abuse and depression. Reptiles are not a common therapy animal in the United States, but they are frequently used in the United Kingdom. Reptiles can help build confidence and are easy to transport.

therapy rabbit.png

In conclusion, animal-assisted therapy programs have become an important part of mental health treatment. People feel needed when they have a pet to care for and it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Talk to your doctor about more information on pet therapy and whether it is suitable for you.

Do you have a service or emotional support animal? Tell us all about him/her! I would love to know the services your animal provides, type/breed, and any pictures you want to share.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Michele says:

    What a lot of great information. I didn’t know about the many benefits of pets. I just know they are great to have around.

Jen Woolwine       Author

Jen is a combat veteran and wife who is passionate about animal rescue, homesteading, and mental health advocacy. Jen's amazing journey of transitioning from military service to homesteading can be followed on her blog and social media platforms @baghdadtobarnyard.

Enjoy the latest Posts

find your next favorite post