How Pets Can Improve Our Mental Health

It’s a well-known fact that we are a nation of animal lovers. Around half of the population own at least one pet, and some of us even love our pets more than our partners. Although this may seem quite extreme, pets can have a huge impact on their owners. Not only do they keep us company and give us plenty of love and devotion, but they’re actually good for our mental wellbeing. And this isn’t all too surprising when we stop and reflect on how they change our lives.

They Give Us Structure

Ever had one of those days when you can’t face getting out of bed? Whilst it can be tempting to stay under covers and hide from the day, it’s not good for you mentally or physically. Even if you already know this, it can still be difficult to get up and make the most of your day, especially on days when you don’t need to be up for anything.

But if you have a pet, you don’t have the option to stay in bed. There’s another life depending on you, no matter what type of pet you have. You need to get up to feed the fish, let the cat outside, give the dog attention and love. And because you need to get up to take care of them in the morning, you’re also forced to get to bed at a reasonable time.

It’s not just your sleeping routine that a pet can help with — they can play a big role in setting your daily routine. You need to make sure that you feed them, walk them, brush them, and play with them. Pet care can be a lot of work, so pet owners tend to structure their days around this.

Whilst you may not think that this sounds like a good thing, a routine is crucial for maintaining good mental health. This doesn’t mean that you have to have your days planned out to the minute, but a general structure does wonders for your health. It can make you feel safer and make it easier to keep up healthy habits.

They Get Us Outside

This one obviously doesn’t go for all pets — you’re probably not going to take your goldfish for a walk. But animals that need lots of outdoor activity can do wonders for your mental health. Going outdoors to exercise at least once a day is important, for both of you. Going out for a walk means that you’re getting exercise. This means that you’re reducing stress, improving your sleep routine and boosting your endorphins. Of course you don’t need a pet to go out for a walk, but it makes it a lot easier.

Now the nights are getting longer and the weather’s getting colder, going out for a walk seems far less appealing. But if you have a dog, you have no choice in the matter. And it’s not just the exercise that’s good for you. Being out in nature is great for our health, in part because of the dose of vitamin D that we get from the sun. This vitamin is crucial to healthy brain development, so those who are lacking in it are more at risk from a number of mental health issues.

Being in nature can also calm us down. This is because nature is full of greenery, and our brains associate the colour with happiness and comfort. So put the leash on your dog, ride your horse, or even walk your alpaca. It’ll do you the world of good.

They Help Us Meet New People

Do you ever go up to see a stranger’s cute pet? When I see a dog, I find it so hard to stay away. Social distancing measures have really been testing me, as it’s almost impossible to walk past a dog without running over to pet them, and ask the owner everything about them. If you’ve ever had a pet, you’ve probably received comments about how cute they are from friends and strangers alike. These interactions are a great opportunity.

If you get talking to a stranger that loves your pet, you already have one thing in common. Chat with each other more, and maybe even suggest meeting up. You can promise to bring your pet along to sweeten the deal for them. There are plenty of other ways to bond over our beloved pets too. You could meet up with your local dog-walking group for a walk and a chat (in a safe, socially distanced way of course).

You might struggle to find a local group if you have an unusual pet, like a hedgehog or a mini pig. But you still have the opportunity to make friends on the internet. Join a group or internet forum dedicated to your pet’s breed. You’ll make friends and probably get some handy tips too.

They’ll Be Your Best Friend If You Let Them

Of course, you can use your pet to make other friends. But you’ve already got a friend in them. After all, they’re the perfect companions. They’re there for you when you need them and they give you all the love and devotion you could ask for. They’ve been especially important to many of us over the last few months.

Working from home has its benefits, but some people have found it challenging. Pets have been the ultimate work from home besties since we’ve been in lockdown, and many people wouldn’t have managed without their furry friends. And they’ve probably loved having you around as much as you’ve loved having them. Maybe even a little bit too much.

Written by Siobhan Kelly
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