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AlisonBrill Posted by Alison T. Brill, MPH, Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” ~Author Ben Williams

Today is Love Your Pet Day, and we sure do love our pets! Whenever the conversation turns to our fuzzy family members, inevitably, everyone whips out their phones to share photos (myself included). To be sure, we have much to be thankful for when it comes to our pets.

Pets Can Improve Our Mood

SeniorManWithDog

It’s pretty hard to stay in a bad mood after a nuzzle from a cat or a lick from a dog. Pets offer physical and emotional comfort, a non-judgmental ear, and unconditional love. Pets are silly and make us laugh, improving our mood and making us more playful. If you have a pet, you know all about this! Pets give us a sense of purpose, which is important for when we’re feeling down. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost overall mood and even bring feelings of joy and happiness. This is particularly true for older adults and people with some chronic illnesses who own pets – they are less likely to be depressed, are better able to tolerate social isolation, and are more active than those who do not own pets.

Lower Stress

Having a pet is a stress buster. Touch is important to our mental health, and petting and cuddling your fuzzy friends is soothing, and has been shown to lower blood pressure. Even watching fish swim in their tank has calming benefits.

Social Perks

Pets ease loneliness and isolation and help us cope in hard times, as they provide companionship. Pets provide opportunities for social interaction, as both dog and cat owners have a natural tendency to want to talk to one another. Increasing our network of friends and acquaintances and building community is an important way to boost mental wellness.

ManHoldingCatPromote Physical Health

Pets help keep us healthy and active. Pet owners are more active and physically healthy than non-pet owners, which contribute to better sleep and overall health. My cats like to play one-way fetch, where I have to retrieve the ball. Maybe they’re smarter than I think.

Important Considerations

Of course, owning a pet isn’t for everyone. When thinking about bringing a pet into your home, please consider if you have allergies or other health issues, your landlord won’t allow them, you’re not in a financial position, or don’t have the time and/or energy to devote. If you decide to bring a pet into your home, please adopt from your local animal shelter. Read about the adoption process and resources from the MSPCA. You’ll be changing an animal’s life, as well as your own.

A pet can't cure symptoms of depression, nor is a pet a substitute for medication or talk therapy. And, being a pet owner comes with its challenges, of course, but the positives sure do outweigh the negatives. As author Ben Williams so perfectly stated, There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.”

Resource: Mental Health Assistance Dogs: http://www.mentalhealthdogs.org/

Mental health assistance dogs are trained to perform tasks that help ease debilitating symptoms for people living with conditions like Post Traumatic Stress, depression, anxiety, Asperger's Syndrome, and Tourette’s syndrome.

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