How pets can help manage mental health issues

Pets could teach us humans a lot about how to support those living with a mental illness.

Bindi pet dog of Femidist

Pets can help manage mental health issues

My pets are a great source of comfort and pleasure to me. The beautiful trusting eyes, the soft fur to stroke and the unconditional love all manage to ground me no matter what is going on in my life or in my head.

Pets could teach us humans a lot about how to support those living with a mental illness. They have a calming effect simply by being rather than fixing, advising or demanding.

The fact that they can’t talk, is to me a great benefit. My mind is busy enough without the incessant chatter taking up more room. They quietly provide comfort and presence without demanding conversation. Relationships with non humans are so much less complicated than those with other humans!

Pets reduce stress

Just by sitting with, playing or stroking one of my pets gives me a chance to relax and calm my mind.

Pets. Sammie the black cat
Sammie. My beautiful girl.

As I write this, Sammie my pure black cat sits curled up in my lap, purring contentedly allowing me to stroke her as I pause in thought.



Even watching fish can reduce stress and can be a simple relaxation or mindfulness exercise. Research shows that when we connect with our pet, oxytocin is released, our stress levels, blood pressure and cortisol levels are all lowered.

Pets live in the now

Pets also have the great knack of keeping us present. Somehow they manage to distract from troubling thoughts by keeping us engaged. They also remind us to have fun. Sometimes with the daily grind of work and other responsibilities we forget to let loose and play and our pets love to bounce and chase and act silly.

Pets provide purpose

Caring for a pet also provides a sense of purpose and achievement as we care for their simple needs of food and shelter. The very need for routine care such as feeding and grooming can help maintain a sense of motivation when at times we have trouble motivating ourselves. My pets certainly make me feel valuable and needed and their positive response to being cared for provides instant gratification. Pets are a lot easier to please than a boss or bank manager.

 (Some) pets encourage exercise

The benefits of exercise are well known and studies have shown that pet owners lower blood pressure, better circulation, stronger muscles and bones which all have physical benefits as well as improving our mental health.

My beautiful dog Bindi encourages me to exercise. While she is not a demanding dog she would walk as often and as far as I would let her. There are few rituals she recognised as cues for a walk and she gets up a funny bounce like Tigger when I zip up a walking jacket, don some socks and walking shoes. She is a great motivator to get up, get outside and go for a walk. Even a short lap around the block clears the mind and gets some fresh air into my lungs and engages me with nature.

Bindi on a bushwalk

We are blessed to live by the ocean, a walk to the end of my street, a mere 500 meters provides stunning views of the bay, ships waiting to come into port, locals fishing and the hypnotic lull of the waves cashing on the beach.

 Companionship and unconditional love

Pets are such great companions and help reduce loneliness and I don’t know about you but my pets are great listeners. They will let me talk about anything, are great at keeping secrets, will let me vent and don’t judge.

The enthusiasm of being met at the gate by my beloved fur babies just makes me smile. They don’t care how I performed at work, what I wear, or how much money I have, they are just happy to see me. Pets are experts in providing unconditional love.

 Pet Therapy

Animals as provides of therapy is now widely accepted with formal and informal programs providing health benefits to people in a variety of settings. Just check out Delta Therapy Dogs for a start.

Pets visiting program to health care facilities has a wonderful therapeutic benefit for patients, residents and staff alike.

Whatever the location or situation, there is significant evidence that pets can play an important role in the daily management of long-term or serious mental illness.

When someone in my house is particularly sad and crying Bindi seems particularly tuned in and approaches the person to console them resting her nose on their knee or nudging them to pet her. I am sure she is not the only animal who does this.

Pets in the cycle of human life

 As I wrote on my post Reasons to homebirth No: 9   pets as part of our family can provide a role in the birth of a new human into the family.

Likewise many people choose to die in their own home surrounded by familiar possessions, surroundings and loved ones including pets. I know you would be hard pressed to get me to birth or die in a hospital. I see both as personal life events not illnesses to be managed and prefer to choose the environment, management and support team around me including the non human support team.

 Read my post about Bindi here


Day out with Bindi
References and Links

ABC News

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