Pets and Mental Health

Gabe the Husky lying on a porch

I can't believe the calendar reads May! It's a beautiful day outside, hopefully a precursor to more great weather ahead. Despite the unusual times we still find ourselves living in, I can't help but feel joyous and hopeful for the future on beautiful days such as this one. Besides good weather for outdoor activities, May is also Mental Health Awareness month. I can certainly share that from my own experience of living through good times and bad, the relationship with our dog has provided invaluable support. I couldn't help but imagine that many people experience the power of pets in their lives so I wanted to take a look at the impact(s) of pets on the mental health of their humans. 30 years ago, in one of the first research studies on pets and mental health, a Psychologist from Purdue University and a Psychiatrist from UPenn found the following resulted after a test subject patted a friendly dog.

  • Reduced blood pressure  
  • Heart rate slowed
  • Breathing became more regular
  • Decrease in muscle tension

While these phenomena may not surprise anyone having a pet in their family, at the time of its' publication the report provided scientific confirmation for what people experienced bonding with an animal. Let me share with you some commonly cited mental health benefits from countless research articles on the mental health benefits that have since come out. 

Engaging with pets lowers stress

Whether it's simply reaching down to greet a pet or a long cuddle session, on the couch, interacting with a pet raises both serotonin and dopamine.  Both these neurotransmitters calm and relax the nervous system lowering stress.


The act of stroking a pet is shown to lower cortisol levels, even showing the ability to reduce the aggression of a stressed individual. Support animals have proven great additions to school settings or family therapy to help calm hyperactive or aggressive children.  

Our pets make us feel needed

This is a statement that I definitely concur with. Times that people have emotional struggles typically occur after a loss or unexpected transition. One thing I know helps me and many people I've spoken with is being of service to others, no matter how many legs they have.  Not only does the care of a pet provide invaluable routine, but the knowledge of improving the life of another living thing is priceless! 

Reduce loneliness

As counterintuitive as it seems in the world with numerous forms of communication in which we live, disconnection and isolation affects many among us today. Although not english speaking and able to converse, although Clooney's diction is clearer than mine at times, simply having a living being with you can reduce isolation. And puppies, all pets for that matter aren't just good for meeting future romantic partners. It's unusual with the mention of a pet or seeing a cute animal in public that at least a short conversation doesn't ensue.

Living in the moment

Whether it is a weaker short term memory or just less sensitivity to time, one thing that's for certain, pets have being present down pat! A hot topic of self-improvement and new age literature seems to be mindfulness, a topic and way of living in the present moment that we can learn a lot about from pets. Whether as a model for staying focused on the moment, or that interacting with a pet can ground their humans in the moment, pets can help to bring us all to the here and now. 

This is nowhere near an all inclusive list of how pets can be beneficial to mental health, just a few of the more prominent points I found and have experienced firsthand. All of us here at RAWZ hope that you're doing well during these unusual times and wish you and your pet(s) well!