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Why Pets Are Good for Your Mental Health

It is very hard to see a cute dog or cat or even a pig and not want to smile.

It is a natural connection between pets and feeling better.  You don’t see people petting their cat with a snarl or angry look.  It’s just the opposite. Even if they start out with a snarl, it soon turns to a smile after they focus on the love that is being offered from their pet.  This may be why using animals and animal therapies as coping techniques is becoming more prominent.  There are many types of pets, some without owners or homes that with the right training can be put to good therapeutic use offering hope and comfort to those suffering from disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Petting an animal seems relaxing and just the repetitiveness of petting can be calming. Psychology Today reports on a study conducted by a Psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania who measured what happens physically to a person when they pet a dog. He found the person’s blood pressure lowered, muscles relaxed, and heart rate slowed down.  He concluded stress levels were reduced by petting an animal due to its calming effect. Therapy dogs, and other pets, are also trained to help people with special needs, including mental health problems such as depression and even PTSD.

There are many mental health benefits of petting an animal.  In recent times it is becoming more popular to use pets as a type of therapy.  Pets used are typically dogs but can also be cats, horses, pigs and even monkeys if that is what is shown to help the person dealing with mental health issues. Paws for People claims there are many mental health benefits of having pets including reducing anxiety and depression, easing loneliness, providing a distraction from negative thoughts and actions, and providing comfort and a sense of accountability to the owner who is responsible for their care.  Having a sense of accountability and responsibility are linked to giving motivation to people who would otherwise lack motivation.

Mental Health Disorders That Can Be Helped by Pets

Wilderwood explains there are many different psychological disorders that can be disabling for people.  Services dogs can help with disorders such as Bipolar, Depression, Anxiety and even social withdrawal.  All of these disorders can be inhibiting and crippling to some.  If having a pet can ease negative mental health symptoms, the use of animals for therapy will hopefully become a major technique used by professionals.  Some of the disorders being studied in this regard include Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety and even PTSD.

Bipolar Disorder

When a person experiences Bipolar disorder, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, they can have periods of extreme highs and extreme lows.  It is called manic depression, with mania being the high times of unpredictable behaviors and impulsive behaviors. Every Day Health reports people with Bipolar Disorder can truly benefit from having a pet, whether it is a service dog or just an ordinary house pet.  Because people with Bipolar Disorder can feel disconnected from reality at times, pets can help them distinguish between what is real and what is part of their mania.  An emotional support animal may be best in working with someone with Bipolar Disorder due to the need for the person to feel in touch with reality and grounded.  By having an emotional support pet, the owner can feel like they are still in reality by seeing the pet is real, and that they are responsible for taking care of the pet.


Depression can be debilitating.  It can make a person not even want to get out of bed.  And with the sadness, comes a level of misplaced guilt about not wanting to do anything, for not understanding their own depression and how to cure it, and not being able to be happy despite having many things in their life to be happy about.  Medline Plus says depression is a serious condition that makes people feel sad, unmotivated, and tired and can even cause bodily aches and pains.

Ways pets can help people with depression include giving their owner a sense of responsibility, offering unconditional love, recognizing signs and symptoms in their owners and offering them a distraction.  The more a depressed person can be exposed to feelings of happiness, the better the change they have to be able to deal with their mental health illness appropriately for a lifetime.  A therapeutic pet can offer smiles and a feeling of being loved and therefore, lifting the mood of the one who suffers from depression.


PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is defined by the National Center for PTSD as a mental disorder that is formed after a person experiences a traumatic event such as combat or an assault of some kind.  PTSD can also be seen among those who have been in a car wreck, natural disaster or even sexual assaults.  Symptoms of PTSD can be extreme at times with the person suffering from flashbacks, nightmares and the inability to socialize.

Animal Therapy is becoming more and more popular in the treatment of PTSD.  The use of horses has been proven to teach people how to calm themselves.  When riding horses it is important to remain calm so the horse remains calm.  From guiding horses to riding horses, they are being seen as very helpful in assisting those with mental health diagnoses and other disorders such as Down syndrome and Autism.  Depending on the breed, dogs are often beneficial as well for providing therapy to those suffering from PTSD.


The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines anxiety as the persistent worry when there is no real cause for the worry or anxiety.  This constant worry can also turn into panic attacks, which are terrifying for the person dealing with this disorder.  Anxiety can make you think you are having a heart attack or it can give you a physical ulcer.  There are few positive benefits of having anxiety.  Therefore it is very important to find ways, such as pet therapies, to ease the symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety.org reports on studies that supports the idea that pet therapy animals can truly benefit someone suffering from anxiety by reducing stress levels and causing mental distractions for the person to focus on rather than them focusing on their own worry.

What Type of Dog Do You Need?

Service Dogs Central states there is a difference between a therapy dog and a psychiatric service dog, which is trained specifically for its disabled owner and for the psychiatric disability for which they are being used.  They can be trained to do many tasks that can be life saving for their owner. The American Disabilities Association defines a service pet as an animal that is trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability.  For instance, a service dog may be trained to guide a blind person, detect signs of a person who is having an epileptic seizure, or even remind a person to take their depression medication. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association a service animal, while most of the times is a dog, can actually refer to any animal that is trained to assist.

The National Service Animal Registry identifies clear strategies that are needed in order to obtain a service animal.  You must first qualify as having a disability by the American Disabilities Association.  Some examples of a qualified mental health disability include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD and Autism. Then you must choose a service dog that has been trained and certified and approved for service to humans with disabilities.   In order to have your service dog be with you at all times, you must go through the proper channels and get an animal that has been legally approved for your care and for your specific disability.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals can be a dog or any other animal approved for therapy by a mental health professional.  However, they are very different than Service Animals.  Emotional Support Animals are described as being used to comfort their owners who suffer from a mental health disability.  They are not trained like a service dog and are usually found mostly at a person’s home rather than being with them at all times and in social situations.

Therapy Dog Infoprovides further information on the emotional support animals by stating in order to have an emotional support animal; you must get a prescription from a medical doctor, Psychiatrist or Psychologist.  To get an emotional support animal, you must qualify as having a mental health disability.  To qualify you will need a diagnosis and a prescription for the pet.  Both the diagnosis and the prescription can come from a Psychiatrist or Psychologist in the mental health field.

Therapy Pets

The American Kennel Club notes that a therapy dog, or animal, is one that goes with their owner to different locations to help others who are suffering from mental health disorders.  Whether it be visiting a child with anxiety or autism at a school or visiting a nursing home to help the elderly feel less lonely, the pet and the owner work as a team to help other people.  They travel to do their work and the owner is always in control of the therapy pet.

Take a tour with a therapy dog that is visiting a hospital by watching this short visit.  While all pets can lift the spirits of people, therapy dogs go through a certification and approval process that is necessary when being used among a variety of people with a variety of disorders.  It would not be appropriate to take a pit bull that hasn’t been socialized to a nursing home full of elderly people wanting to pet it.  It also would not be right to take a newly rescued cat to a school full of young children to be passed around and pet for a lengthy amount of time.  Just as you go and see a trained specialist for a physical ailment, you want a specialty trained pet to help people cope with their mental health disorder.

Therapy animals are not necessarily governed by any laws.  However, it is very important to have them certified and taken through special training so they will know how to behave appropriately when trying to uplift the spirits of others. The American Mini Pig Association claims mini pigs can be of tremendous help in providing therapy.  Yes, it is true, even a pig can be beneficial in lending support to those with mental health illnesses.

Getting the Right Pet

There are many steps to take before bringing home a pet that will be used for service or support.  Anything Pawsable suggests you first determine what your goals are in getting a therapy pet.  The next thing is to figure out if you want a rescue pet or pay more and get a pet from a breeder.  Also consider the type of breed you want, the temperament of that breed and the general health of that breed.  Make a list of the characteristics you want your pet to have.  Does it need to be trained to dial an emergency phone or does it just need to climb in your lap with it feels you are sad?  Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the trainer, like a job interview.  After all, this pet may save your life one day or at the least, provide you with the support you need to begin feeling happy.

Psychiatric Service Dog Partners offers important information on how to pick a service dog.  Don’t pick a dog breed based on your favorite kind, it is necessary to pick a dog with the right temperament.  The amount of activity you do needs to match the activity levels of your dog.  Don’t buy a hyperactive dog that needs to run a lot during the day if you are not able to leave the house due to being wheelchair bound.  Don’t buy a cat that sheds a great deal of hair if you can’t vacuum as often as you will need to.  Do the research, ask a lot of questions, and make an informed decision.  By doing so, you will certainly find the right type of pet for your therapeutic needs.