Pets, your prescription for Better Mental Health

Interaction with pets and therapy animals has been linked to improved mental health for people in numerous settings — homes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, prisons, first responder stations, workplaces, rehab centers, community centers and many more places. 

The common thread in all these settings is people who are dealing with stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, addiction, eating disorders, PTSD or other types of mental distress. Everyone, regardless of whether they’ve ever been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, must deal with stress or negative feelings at one point or another. 

The Human Animal Research Bond Institute, a nonprofit that maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and funds further studies, reports on its website about the numerous situations in which pets or pet therapy was found to benefit humans’ mental health, including: 

  • Child-dog interactions may prevent the evolution of emotional problems into full-fledged mental, emotional or behavioral disorders during adolescence or during adulthood. According to a cross-sectional study of over 600 children in a primary care setting, having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety
  • A study of 400 homeless youth found that 23% of those surveyed reported owning pets. Those who did report owning a pet reported experiencing less depressive symptoms and loneliness than their non-pet-owning peers. 
  • In a study examining an intervention of animal-assisted activities on hospital patients submitted to chemotherapy, symptoms of depression were shown to improve by as much as 50% in the group receiving the intervention. 
  • A systematic literature review funded by the Human Animal Research Bond Institute provides a comprehensive overview of empirical research on animal-assisted intervention for trauma. The review concludes that results have been predominantly positive, showing short-term improvements in depression, PTSD symptoms and anxiety.
  • One study of elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease found that after the introduction of an aquarium into the facility, patients experienced higher food intake and weight gain and a reduced requirement of nutritional supplementation.
  • Pets also were found to contribute to a stronger sense of identity in pet owners with mental health conditions, including reducing negative perceptions of a mental health condition or diagnosis.