Research has shown that having a pet can benefit your mental health, and one of the most popular choices is the dog. Experts believe that this loyal companion can bring a sense of calm and contentment to those feeling overwhelmed. Here, we explore the science behind why dogs can be so beneficial for your mental health.
When humans interact with their pets, there is a release of oxytocin, a hormone of love, affection and bonding, as well as serotonin and dopamine which are feel-good chemicals. These hormones are known to reduce blood pressure, slow breathing and heart rate, as well as help humans relax. The unconditional acceptance of our furry friends can also provide comfort in difficult times.
In addition, dogs encourage physical activity. Whether it’s a leisurely walk around the block or an energetic game of fetch, taking your four-legged friend out with you is a great way to get moving while extending their own daily exercise. In turn, this helps to reduce stress and boosts your mood. Moving and being active has been proven to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety and depression.
Studies have also shown that social interaction with a pet can help people who are struggling with social anxiety, while further research outlined that interacting with a pet can reduce stress levels during exams and other social events. Feeling loved and accepted has a positive effect on emotion, and a pet can provide much-needed affection when we might not get it from other places.
Of course, it’s important to note that each individual responds differently to the presence of a pet, and some people may find that having a pet can aggravate the symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, for some, a long hug from an animal can be just the ticket for a moment of pure happiness and calm.
Although the traditional idea of an animal providing unconditional love and care may only be experienced with a dog or another pet, there are still a number of alternative ways to enjoy similar benefits. Animal-assisted therapies, such as dolphin swimming, horse riding, and even contact with tropical birds and fish, can also help to enhance mental wellbeing.
It’s often said that a dog is a “man’s best friend”, and science is proving that the bond between human and canine is more powerful than ever imagined. From positive physical health benefits to an increased sense of happiness and contentment, dogs can be more than just a loyal companion. They can offer a much-needed distraction when life gets tough and provide us with an incredible friendship during difficult times.