How Owning Pets Can Help and Hurt Your Mental Illness
Pets are important for a person’s mental health. It’s hard to understand how animals help humans emotionally but we all know it’s true. If you have pets, you know the ease with which they can put a smile on your face. This goes doubly so if you have a mental illness. If you want some natural cures for anxiety then all you probably need is to learn how to get a service dog for anxiety and depression or a service cat for anxiety if you prefer cats.
You might have had a bad day with your depression, or an anxiety attack. The only thing that can calm you down is snuggling up to your cat or dog. However, have you ever thought of how these loving and adorable animals may actually be influencing your mental health in a negative way? I’m not discounting the uplifting benefits of owning a pet when it comes to managing mental illness. Yet, I often find myself losing control of myself when I start to experience the less positive sides of pet ownership. Since I am actually in favor of owning pets (I have 2 cats and a dog) we’ll start with the benefits; as they are basically limitless.
How animals help humans emotionally: Calming Anxiety
Staying positive is much easier with pets around. There is a reason that cats and dogs have become therapy animals (and why many people turn to pet therapy for depression) in the recent decades. There is scientific proof that they can actively lower anxiety levels in pretty much everyone, mental illness or not. The soft feeling of their fur, and “kisses” they give can make you feel more peaceful, and loved. They can really make you forget, if just for a moment, the pain and stress that you love with on a daily basis. Plus they are just so darn adorable, your brain can’t help but overflow with positive chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. For these reasons, many people with anxiety wouldn’t be able to survive like they do without their furry companion.
How animals help humans emotionally: Easing Depression
Have you ever noticed that your pet is always incredibly happy to see you? If you think about it, it’s probably just because they relate you with their next meal (kidding). Pets are able to show boundless and indifferent love to their owners. Can dogs sense depression? I think they can. If you’re in a low point with your depression, it almost feels as if the animals know that you’re not doing well. They will try their utmost to console you, and act as a good, yet absorant, shoulder to cry on. Humans have been domesticating animals for millennia, and it’s probably because we just fee so happy around them, especially when they’re not trying to eat us. Nothing will help to ease your depression like a little furry ball of joy, even if it’s just for a short while.
How animals help humans emotionally: Companionship With PTSD
Now I’ve never experienced PTSD myself, other than being afraid to drive in the snow after sliding into a bridge a few years back. I almost feel guilty for calling that PTSD as I know there are many people who would say that it’s not really like a soldier’s PTSD. While I agree with you there, mental illness can take all shapes and forms with different people. While my experience may not be as malicious as people who have survived severe trauma; we need to accept that for each person, mental illness manifests differently. However, whatever type of PTSD you suffer from, often we hear that feeling alone in their experience, and consequently their life, is the most common expression of this illness. What better to soothe this ailment than Man’s Best Friend? It’s clear that the loyalty that most owners experience with their pets (cats can be loyal too) is an incredible, life changing bond. Another reason that whatever it is you may be suffering from, having that fluffy companion will make it all a little lighter on your shoulders.
While I did state that the benefits to owning pets are endless, hence why I won’t go into more in this article, there are some ways that it can actually worsen your mental health.
Everyone who has ever had a young pet like a puppy or a kitten, can tell you that there are some bad days with animals, that are just part of “the experience”. Although you’ll probably hear that more from those who don’t suffer from a mental illness. As these days where the dog goes to the bathroom on the rug for the 7th time, can really be trying for someone with anxiety. My pets will often fight around meal times, because the dog eats everything and goes after the cats food, you can imagine how this makes the cats feel. The constant barking, hissing and scratches flying can quickly overwhelm anyone who is focusing on trying to survive the day. There are clear mental health benefits of owning a dog but on such day or moments, well, it’s harder to see them.
If you’ve never had a pet, you’ll often hear that it is a lot of work and responsibility caring for another living creature. If you have owned or currently own pets, you’ll be able to attest that this is 100% truth. When you’re having a ruff day of your own (see what I did there?) cleaning the litter box, or taking the dog for a walk can feel almost too much to handle when you’re having trouble taking care of yourself. There are many benefits of having a dog in your life (and a cat or two) but there are also a lot of downsides to this.
This is true for any animal, I don’t actually think that there are any no maintenance pets that exist (excluding the pet rock). There are low maintenance animals for sure, but they don’t often offer the same benefits as some of the harder to care for pets. I always loved animals and now that I know how animals help humans emotionally I have an even stronger reason to have them around.
Can having a dog help with anxiety and depression? What about a cat? It’s yes to both if you ask me. Just in case you were thinking of getting a pet to help with your mental health (there are professional ones called therapy pets for anxiety – also look for pet therapy for depression), know that there are many things to take into account other than the positives. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, I am very pro-pets as I don’t think I would have made it through my hardest moments without them. Now that you’ve finished reading, go give your furry little friends a big warm embrace, and thank them for always being there for you…even though they probably have no idea what you’re saying.
As always, if you see something I missed, or just want to spread some knowledge, help each other out. Leave a comment letting others know what help, or dangers, lie in pet ownership. What do you think: do dogs help with depression? Do cats help with depression? Can owning a pet help you live longer? How animals help humans emotionally and have you ever felt this “help” on bad days? Did you know that science proved owning a pet is good for you?