Alright, alright, I know that my entry earlier in the week was a bit of a bummer. Well, let me qualify that: It could be a bummer on the surface, since it was about my recently deceased dog. But if you look beyond just the words I wrote, you’ll see that the overarching theme of the entry was more than just sadness. I’m obviously heartbroken that Molly is gone, but the point of my entry wasn’t just how sad it was: It was how much joy the dog gave us for ten wonderful years.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who felt that way about their pet, and there’s real science there.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America calls it “The Pet Effect”:
It’s also no surprise that 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. Not only are people happier in the presence of animals, they’re also healthier. In a survey of pet owners, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership.
And let’s be clear here – the benefits of pet ownership go beyond one survey and beyond the notion of just feeling good. According to a meta-analysis of 17 studies, pet ownership was associated with major mental health improvements. According to the meta-analysis itself, 15 of the 17 studies reported positive mental health benefits of pet ownership (though 9 actually also reported negative benefits as well).
The study then broke the benefits of pet ownership into broader themes. These included:
- Providing comfort, emotional support and companionship, as well as mitigating worry and stress. This was particularly true for veterans suffering from PTSD. Pets also provide a role as companions and comforters and were perceived by humans to be replacement family members, and friends capable of listening without judgement.
- Encouraging physical activity and distracting someone from their negative symptoms. One study went as far as finding that people with pets were more likely to get out of their house for mental health care than those who didn’t have pets. Furthermore, the distraction of a pet was found to help alleviate ruminative symptoms by encouraging humans to stay more in the present.
- Encouragement of social interaction. Pets encouraged humans to interact more with others and better integrate their humans to the community.
- Pets provide their humans with a sense of self worth and identity. For many, a pet is another reason to live – its something that you love and care for, and becomes a positive part of who you are.
Pets can create negative symptoms too, of course. They are financial costs (potentially significant ones – also, again, GET PET INSURANCE) and may create a burden in terms of housing.
So, if you’re down, should you get a pet? Well, yeah, maybe. It’s not a cure all. Nothing is a cure all. But if you are ready for the responsibility (and it is a major responsibility, trust me), having a two or four legged companion may ease your suffering and give you joy and love.