Pets and mental health

Why your pet is your mental health’s best friend

The UK is a nation of pet lovers. 45% of households in the UK have a pet, but why do we as a nation love our pets so much?

Many people say they feel calmer and happier when they are in the company of their pet. Pets can certainly have positive influences on our health – both mental and physical.

  • A pet can provide comfort and companionship when life gets tough. Pet owners often say their pet can sense when something may be amiss with their owners.
  • Being greeted at the door after a hard day at work by a happy four-legged companion who is pleased to see you can work wonders in reducing stress levels. Animals are good listeners and some people find it easier to confide in their pet. They don’t judge; are very loyal and can provide the unconditional love some people have been unable to find with human beings.
  • Animals often provide the focal point for conversations and make it easier to meet and interact with other animal lovers, which can be good in combatting loneliness, particularly for the elderly, and improve social interaction with other people.
  • Sometimes having someone or something else to look after and care for other than oneself can be good in building self-confidence and contentment by providing a sense of purpose and a structure or routine to the day and to life in general.
  • Pets, especially dogs, can keep you active and improve your physical health. Physical and mental health are closely connected, so if one benefits, the other will as well.
  • Pets can have a calming effect on their owner, reducing anxiety and depression, which can in turn help to improve sleep quality. If we sleep better, we are better able to tackle the day ahead and to cope with stress.

There can be some negatives to owning and caring for a pet. For some already suffering from a mental health condition and finding it challenging just to look after themselves, having the added responsibility of caring for an animal who is dependent on them, may be too much. Large animals, such as horses, that require much more care and a financial commitment, can instead become a burden rather than a pleasure. There are also the emotional and psychological effects of losing a cherished pet which has become a big part of someone’s life. If not handled properly, the bereavement of losing a pet can in some instances worsen a mental health condition.

Overall however, the positive effects and joy of having a pet are important and the influence they can have on mental health should not be underestimated. It’s no surprise then that animal therapy is thought to be beneficial as a treatment for depression. Some mental health professionals also advocate that pet owning should form a part of mental health care plans for some patients. In places like New York, you can even join special pet day care centres as a ‘pet buddy’ and have all the benefits of playing with a dog without the responsibility and commitment of owning one. Perhaps it will catch on here too.

Both Dr Winbow and Prof Hale have many years’ experience in diagnosing and treating a variety of mental health conditions. To make an appointment, please contact our head office in Leigh in Kent.



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