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Discover the Mental Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

Header image courtesy of Wag!

There are two types of people in this world: Those that are tired of every other post on their twitter feed or insta timeline being of dogs, or those who yearn for the good boy posts.

It’s true; as social media continues to explode, some of the most prevalent content consists of dogs. Dogs. DOGS. They’re everywhere — and I personally am here for it. The large presence of social media content that relates to pets is reflective of the pet-obsessed culture in the United State; 68% of U.S. households have at least one pet.  

But what are the potential health benefits of living with mankind’s oldest companions? Research shows there’s significant mental health benefits, which are summarized in this article. Pet owners:

  • Experience increases in oxytocin
  • Find a sense of security and comfort
  • Have an easier time expanding their social networks

So yes, we live in a culture that is obsessed with pets. But our obsession with pets isn’t just a fad — it’s a benefit to our mental health. Research has shown that living with a pet can alleviate stress, ease anxiety and help with depression.

a black pitbull terrier with a white stomach kisses a man with blond hair and a gray and orange flannel shirt on the cheek
When you’re feeling down, spending time with your pet can certainly cheer you up.

As a matter of fact, there’s an entire field of study dedicated to the health improvements that can result from pet ownership. Scientists in the field of human-animal bond research have found that pet owners experience real, measurable health effects, such as an increase in oxytocin levels in the brain.

Oxytocin is a strong hormone that, when released, plays a role with increasing social interaction in humans. It also affects our ability to empathize, express generosity and sexual pleasure.

a woman holds a yellow flower in her outstretched hands
Having a pet won’t only brighten your day, but can help you spread the joy as well. Image courtesy of Mindful Schools.

Life can be hectic, and for people with mental health disorders, it can feel like they never catch a break. If you have anxiety you’re always worrying; OCD, you’re always thinking; depression, you can’t get yourself out of bed in the morning. These complex feelings are only augmented by the day to day grind we subject ourselves to.

In our culture, pets offer a sense of security. A necessary sense of comfort that we can turn to after a long day.

a brown puppy nuzzles his owners arm
Everyone, and I mean everyone, can use a cuddle buddy. Image courtesy of Puppy Leaks.

Research has also shown that having a connection to a household pet can help people expand their social network. A study conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that “pet owners were significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners.”

So think twice before you roll your eyes at the next tweet you see of an adorable puppy following its owner around the house. Our interactions with pets have positive impacts on our mental health — another reason to be thankful for the good boys in our lives.