Have you ever had one of those days where the only thing you want to do is hug your dog or lay with your cat? I know I have! Do you ever feel like your dog is your only friend, or your cat is the only one that understands you? You’re not alone there either!
Fact is, as much as we are responsible for our pets’ health and wellbeing, they provide us with physical and mental health support.
In this post I discuss:
- How different animals can help your mental health,
- Statistics showing how pets improve our health,
- How to get a service animal for extreme cases of anxiety.
Depression, anxiety, and mental health are serious matters. If you’re struggling with any of these conditions having a pet can help, but it’s not a cure! If you think you might be suffering from depression, give your pet a hug, but go and talk to a trained professional as well. Depression left untreated, can have devastating consequences.
How Dogs Help with Depression
Do you ever feel like your dog knows you better than anyone else? Does it seem like your dog knows what mood you’re in, even before you do? It probably does! Dogs have evolved to be highly aware of body language and posture. As well, their keen sense of smell lets them detect small changes in our scent. You smell different when you’re anxious to your dog.
Some health benefits of becoming a dog owner include:
- Increased physical exercise from dog walking and playtime
- Feeling of companionship, a dog is always there for you
- Reducing anxiety, dogs live in the moment, they’re not regretting the past or worrying about the future, we could learn something from them on this topic
It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re walking a dog, or giving a belly rub. For many people, a dog provides that moment of bliss and relaxation many of us miss out on in our busy lives.
How Cats Help with Depression
There are 7.9 million pet cats in Canada. That’s 2 million more homes with cats than with dogs, so when you go home, it’s more likely a cat will be greeting you than a dog.
While cats behave pretty different than dogs, they still provide great mental health support. There are even psychiatric service cats now.
While a dog’s wagging tail can help brighten your day, a cat’s purr can also have a substantial impact on your mood. Studies have even suggested that the frequency of a cat’s purr can help heal us both physically and mentally.
Statistics Support Pet Ownership as a Healthy Investment
Yes, statistics can be manipulated, but it doesn’t stop us from loving them! So here are some interesting stats suggesting owning a cat, dog, or any other animal can do wonders for your health.
A study in Sweden that followed 3.4 million people found owning a dog decreased their risk of death by 33 percent when compared to similar people without a dog. The same study found owning a dog decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 36 percent.
Babies exposed to a cat or dog in the first year of their life were less likely to develop allergies or asthma later in life. Petting an animal at any stage of life seems to improve our immune system immediately.
People who walk their dogs are more likely to meet their recommended daily activity level, and a study of 2000 adults found dog walkers are less likely to be obese.
Other Small Pets for Depression
There are a lot of online lists regarding the best breed of dog or cat to boost your mental health. This seems pretty silly to me! A poodle isn’t better equipped to help you relax than a dog from a shelter is. In fact, our pets don’t need to be dogs or cats at all to provide health benefits.
Perhaps a cat or dog isn’t an option for you, in that case, consider a hamster, rabbit, guinea pig or even something more exotic like a reptile.
How to Get An Anxiety Service Dog
Guide dogs have been in use since World War 1 when they were used by veterans whose vision was damaged during the war. As a society, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing guide dogs leading people with impaired vision, but in recent years new types of service dogs have become available.
Today there are service dogs that help with a range of health conditions, from diabetes to depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Service dogs that assist with mental health are sometimes referred to as psychiatric service dogs.
Psychiatric service dogs are reserved for people who struggle with severe depression, anxiety and mental health issues. Their condition has escalated to the point that everyday tasks have become nearly impossible for them.
If you think you might be a candidate for a psychiatric service dog you should first speak with your physician. Service dogs are not as regulated as you might think and each Canadian province has a different process in place.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, your first course of action is to see your doctor. These are real problems you’re facing, and they’re not likely to improve on their own. After that consider making more time to hang out with your dog or cat. Maybe skip doing the dishes and instead take your dog for a walk or lay on the couch with your cat.
If you’re not in a situation where having a pet is an option volunteer at your local animal shelter. Spending a few hours a week with shelter dogs and cats can be rewarding for everyone involved.