- 6 Ways Dogs Help Ease Depression Symptoms
- 1. Dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance.
- 2. Dogs alter our behavior.
- 3. Dogs distract.
- 4. Dogs promote touch.
- 5. Dogs make us responsible.
- 6. Dogs lower our blood pressure.
- 8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines to Help Cope When You’re Down
- How Dogs Can Help Alleviate Depression
- Choosing the Right Dog for Your Personality
- Breeds: A Good Starting Point
- What About A Rescue Dog?
- 8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines That Can Cure the Blues
- Can Dogs Help With Depression?
- Pets and mental health
- Pets and loneliness
- Pets and people in later life
- Pets and children with ADHD
- Pets and Autism
- Our research
- 6 Ways Pets Relieve Depression
- The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets
- Pets come with some powerful mental health benefits. Here’s how caring for a dog or cat can help you cope with depression, anxiety, and stress.
- How pets can help you make healthy lifestyle changes
- The health benefits of pets for older adults
- The health benefits for children
- Owning a pet is a major commitment
- How to find the perfect pet
- Alternatives to pet ownership
- 6 Amazing Ways Dogs Can Help Those Suffering From Depression
- How a dog can help
- What you should consider before getting a dog
- Should your dog be certified as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
- Other ways to help improve symptoms of depression
- If your depression is severe enough that you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please do not hesitate to ask for help. Call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- How Dogs Help Symptoms of Depression
- How has your dog helped you?
6 Ways Dogs Help Ease Depression Symptoms
My husband and I had to put down our Labrador-Chow mix this morning. He did exactly what his sister did nine months ago: went out to our backyard on a cold and rainy night and just stood there, with his tail down, and wouldn’t come back in. It’s as if they both knew it was their time and wanted to die in peace. He was almost 15 years old, so we knew it was coming, but you’re never really ready for that feeling of emptiness or hollowness you feel when a pet leaves your life. Only then do you realize how much they gave to you.
Dogs, of course, are good for depression. Both of my dogs have helped me with my moods more than I thought was capable of things that don’t speak English. In loving memory of Sonny and his sister Sara, here are just six ways dogs enhance our mental health.
1. Dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance.
As far as we know, dogs are without opinions, critiques, and verdicts. Even if you smell like their poop, they will snuggle up next to you. In a Johns Hopkins Depression & Anxiety Bulletin, Karen Swartz, MD, mentions a recent study that found that nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely when they spent quiet time with a dog alone than when they visited with a dog and other residents.
The study enrolled 37 nursing home residents who scored high on a loneliness scale and were interested in receiving weekly half-hour visits from dogs. Half of the residents had quiet time alone with the pooches. The other half shared the dog with other nursing home residents. Both groups said they felt less lonely after the visit, but the decrease in loneliness was much more significant among the residents who had the dogs all to themselves. In other words, at times we prefer our four-legged friends to our mouthy pals because we can divulge our innermost thoughts and not be judged.
2. Dogs alter our behavior.
Here’s a typical scenario back when we had dogs. I would come through the door in the evening and I’m annoyed. At what, I don’t know. A million little snafus that happened throughout the day. I am dangerously close to taking it out on someone. However, before I can do that, my Lab-Chow walks up to me and pats me, wanting some attention. So I kneel down and pet her. She licks my face, and I smile. Voila! She altered my behavior. I am only agitated a little now and chances are much better that someone will not become a casualty of my frustrations. We calm down when we are with our dogs. We slow our breath, our speech, our minds. We don’t hit as many people or use as many four-lettered words.
3. Dogs distract.
Dogs are like riveting movies and books. They take us out of our heads and into another reality — one that only involves food, water, affection, and maybe an animal butt — for as long as we can allow. I’ve found distraction to be the only effective therapy when you’ve hit a point where there is no getting your head back. It’s tough to ruminate about how awful you feel and will feel forever when your dog is breathing in your face.
4. Dogs promote touch.
The healing power of touch is undisputed. Research indicates a 45-minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and optimize your immune system by building white blood cells. Hugging floods our bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. And, according to a University of Virginia study, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center. Touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat clues. It’s not surprising, then, that stroking a dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost levels of serotonin and dopamine.
5. Dogs make us responsible.
With dogs come great responsibility, and responsibility — according to depression research — promotes mental health. Positive psychologists assert that we build our self-esteem by taking ownership of a task, by applying our skills to a job. When we succeed — i.e., the dog is still alive the next day — we reinforce to ourselves that we are capable of caring for another creature as well as ourselves. That’s why chores are so important in teaching adolescents self-mastery and independence.
Taking care of a dog also brings structure to our day. Sleeping until noon is no longer a possibility unless you want to spend an hour cleaning up the next day. Staying out all night requires preparation and forethought.
6. Dogs lower our blood pressure.
Research shows that dog owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rates both before and while performing stressful mental tasks — like, say, performing a family intervention or supervising kids’ homework. Blood pressure also drops when people pet dogs, especially if it’s a dog they know and love. Dog petting can also bring improvement in a person’s immune system and ease pain. It seems as though a dog’s mere presence is beneficial.
It’s something that a lot of people deal with, but not a lot of people talk about it. So let’s talk about it — and how to use positive forces to assuage the effects. One of those positive forces? The four-legged, tail-wagging kind.
There are the obvious benefits of having a dog, of course, and any canine lover doesn’t need to be told about the everyday delights of having a darling four-legged friend around — the feverish tail wagging inspired by a favorite human’s homecoming, the sleepy cuddles, the delight on their faces when notified of an upcoming walk — but dogs can have even more positive effects on a person’s mental state that many of us realize. And when it comes to the depression, anxiety, and stress (in many forms) that are such a significant aspect of the human experience, we think investigating the canine effect on human mental health is a worthwhile one.
Mental health — where we are.
Anxiety and depression affect a huge number of Americans. Recent research suggests that 18% percent of people 18 and over in this country experience some form of an anxiety disorder — that’s about 40 million adults. The negative effects of this disorder can show up in myriad forms, from toxic patterns in relationships to debilitating work performance to hospitalization. As far as cause goes, there’s a number of risk factors: genes, trauma, situational factors such as jobs and relationships, and any other combination of occurrences unique to an individual.
And then there’s anxiety’s closest link: depression. Half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with a form of anxiety disorder. While numerically, depression affects a smaller portion of the population than anxiety does at 16 million adults (or 6.7 percent) to anxiety’s 40 million, it’s a serious and debilitating condition in all its forms.
The most commonly recognized variations are major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder (also known as dysthymia). Depression also affects women in greater numbers than it does men — premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is a form that is similar to PMS, but has more debilitating effects and more extreme mood changes.
So let’s talk about positive steps. Specifically, four-legged, paw-footed steps.
How exactly do dogs help anxiety, depression, and/or stress? Every individual’s situation is a unique one, of course, and must be assessed carefully for that person’s specific needs. But the possibilities of these incredible and boundless creatures are powerful and can be life-changing — so we’re more than happy to expound on them. While there can be many different solutions to the management of anxiety and depression, all your brain knows about any successful tactic is “it floods me with more serotonin.” Increased levels of serotonin is the key towards easing both anxiety and depression. Luckily, there are more than a few ways to get there. Even more luckily? Hanging out with dogs accomplishes a lot of them.
Let’s start with the basics.
Straight-up love and affection (with evolutionary explanations).
Research shows that when we pet a dog (or cat), not only is the feel-good chemical (also known as the “love hormone”) oxytocin released (the same one we feel when hugging a loved one), but our levels of the stress hormone cortisol dips. Oxytocin promotes attachment and is thus a foundational element of relationships. For someone struggling with anxiety and depression, this kind of attachment with a dog has the possibility of taking them outside the hopelessness of their anxious or depressed state, and perhaps allowing them to see new hope in a connection with a sweet canine.
As wonderful and supportive as friends and family can be when we’re experiencing the hopelessness of depression and the spirals of anxiety, the primal connection we have with dogs, their upfront expressions of affection, and their more-discernible needs (and expression of those needs), is a kind of powerful, moving simplicity that not only doesn’t pile on to the stresses of life but shows us the potential joys we weren’t able to see before.
In fact, the simplicity of the connection between humans and dogs may be described as a foundational, primal sort: researchers have delved into the evolutionary behavior of both species, and found parallels that may explain why pups can be so positive to our mental health. There’s the pack mentality, of course: the social-for-survival instinct that inclines both dogs and people to live within a family unit — protecting and checking in on one another. When dogs and humans occupy the same family unit, research shows that many dog owners unquestionably consider their dog a family member whose status is consistent with human relatives.
This relationship evidently has deep roots — as long as homo sapiens have been around, we’ve had the mutually beneficial partnership with dogs that we enjoy today (researchers bolster this with the observation that domestic dogs have been living and evolving apart from wolves for as long as 100,000 years or more). The dynamics of the relationship didn’t look especially different back in its primal origins, either. Dogs provided protection, helped guide hunting and sniffed out potential dangers, while people provided them with food and shelter.
It’s a symbiosis we still see, one that not only grants each side companionship, but makes us all (canine and homo sapien) feel needed. It’s one of the most primal forms of validation there is, this dog-human relationship.
So while our relationships with dogs aren’t the only sort that grant us unconditional love, the canine offering of the wonderful unconditional phenomenon is one that’s certainly unique to these four-legged friends. Dogs don’t inflict the same politics, dramas, insecurities and other draining forces that people can sometimes inflict on other people — the same forces that can be contributing factors to depression, anxiety, and stress on all levels.
And then there’s the exercise inspiration that dogs incite. Whichever way you look at it, dogs will forever insist on being exercised, whether it’s walk around the block, a hike, or an energetic romp at the dog park. Some dogs love to chase a frisbee for hours and others just want to tear up a hiking trail, but wherever they take you, it’s a step further from the cloud-like feeling of depression. The joy and positive effects of exercise on dogs is most certainly mirrored in people, making this relationship one rife with possibility for assuaging the effects of anxiety, depression, and overall stress.
Exercise is one of the many spinoff benefits to owning a dog. Naturally built into the experience of satisfying a dog’s basic needs, once you own or spend more time with dogs, the more you’ll get more exercise without having to plan for it. Exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases endorphins that fight depression and anxiety, and it makes dogs happy — an emotion they return to you out of gratitude. There we are back at that symbiotic relationship again!
Dogs help allay the pain of depression and anxiety, yes, but they also give people struggling with these conditions a tangible reason to harness positive energy into caring for something. They offer a sense of need and urgency — they need to be fed, they need to be walked — and most of all, as mentioned above: they make people feel needed, necessary, important.
This simple fact — being needed — is a powerful way to re-anchor a person’s place in the world if they’ve been blown off course by the effects of depression, anxiety, or stress. Whether that’s caring for one’s one dog or watching someone else’s pup, people can find purpose in the four-pawed approach.
As goes the oft-repeated saying when it comes to struggle, admitting the problem is an essential first step to solving it. It can be hard for people to accept that they’re experiencing forms of mental illness, such as anxiety and depression. It’s even harder to admit it. The thing about dogs, though, is that they’re so attuned to human emotion and impulse, that there’s no hiding from them.
Depression, anxiety, and stress are bound to be a part of life at one point or another — it’s all about managing the ebb and flow of being a human being accumulating experience. Life is about creating your own happiness by finding elements of joy where you can.
As we’ve seen, dogs can be an incredibly powerful part of weaving consistent delight into your day-to-day life: the kind of delight that allays insecurities, calms worry, and lifts your spirits when hope seems elusive. Not only do dogs provide the positive feels you need when you’re experiencing the effects of anxiety and depression, but they validate the presence of emotion — whatever it is — without judgement, and without the unfortunate stigmas that exist in some corners when it comes to mental illness.
“Why are humans and dogs so good at living together?” Nigel Barber
“Can a Service Dog Help with Your Anxiety?” Kathleen Pointer
“Dog Walkers More Likely to Reach Exercise Benchmarks” Jason Cody; Mathew Reeves
“How a Dog Helped Me Manage My Anxiety and Depression” Kathryn Oda
“5 Ways Dogs Help Humans Be Healthier and Happier” Liz Donovan
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Mood-Boosting Power of Dogs
National Institute of Mental Health
8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines to Help Cope When You’re Down
The beneficial affects of dogs on people with depression has been well documented, and is it really any surprise?
Those furry, four-legged, tail-wagging dogs bring tons of joy into our lives, and for those coping with depression, the unconditional love of a dog can have tremendous power.
Dogs can help with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental health issues that affect your day-to-day life. Some dogs even provide emotional support as a full-time gig, working as service animals that are placed in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations.
While the advantages of dog ownership are huge, it’s worth asking – what are the best dogs for depression? You’ll want to find the right dog for you.
Picking the wrong dog for your lifestyle can increase stress and anxiety, so finding a dog that’s a good fit is essential for reaping the mood-boosting benefits of canine ownership.
How Dogs Can Help Alleviate Depression
Owning a dog can help improve mood and reduce stress levels – as a result, dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Dogs can alleviate depression in a number of ways:
- Unconditional Love. Dogs provide an abundant source of unconditional love. Dogs don’t care what kind of person you are or what kind of problems you have – they’ll love you regardless.
- Responsibility & Sense of Worth. Having another creature depend on you for their needs can add a great sense of value in a person’s life. Being able to provide food, water, and care for another living being allows us to feel important and provides a sense of worth.
- Activity. Exercising a dog, like all exercise, also releases serotonin and dopamine. Having a dog to walk gives owners a reason to get beneficial exercise, and also owners outside for some fresh air.
- Meet New People. Dogs help their owners meet new people and make friends – who doesn’t want to meet their neighbor with the new puppy?
- Routine. Caring for a pet can add structure, routine, and purpose to your day. For those suffering from depression, a set, regular routine can be very comforting and helpful.
- Physical Touch. We often don’t acknowledge the power of physical touch. Touching another living creature can be very comforting, and petting (or cuddling) a dog can go a long way in reducing stress. Playing with animals has also been shown to release serotonin and dopamine (those great good-feeling drugs).
- Better Health. Dog owners have lower blood pressure than those without pets, especially in stressful situations
In this video, YouTube blogger Erin discusses how her dog Digby helps her cope with her depression – have a watch!
Choosing the Right Dog for Your Personality
While it’s been well demonstrated that dogs can help reduce depression, it’s important to consider which canine characteristics and traits will best benefit your individual needs.
For some people with depression, a happy-go-lucky goofball like a retriever is ideal. Active dogs like retrievers can help owners get out and be active, boosting endorphins and improving mood.
However, others may find that type of dog to be exhausting and frustrating, making things worse. These people may do better with a cuddly Havanese.
Talk to your mental health professional and your potential dog’s breeder to better understand which types of dogs will suit your emotional and physical needs.
Breeds: A Good Starting Point
Dog breeds have been bred for specific purposes over the years, with different breeds displaying different personality traits, behaviors, and care requirements.
We’re detailing the recommended dog breeds or breed groups that often work well as emotional support animals and are commonly considered best dogs for depression.
Once you have identified a breed or breed group (ie, shepherds, terriers, or retrievers) that interest you, start speaking to owners, breeders, or rescue staff that work with these dogs. These animal care professionals and owners can help you identify individual dogs that will work best for your lifestyle.
Big differences exist between working versus show lines in many breeds, so talking to your breeder or shelter staff is just as important as doing early research on various breeds.
While dog breeds have been developed of the years for specific purposes, each dog is an individual, so make sure to get to know your potential canine partner before bringing them home permanently.
What About A Rescue Dog?
It’s also worth noting that you by no means need to get a purebred dog – make sure to consider adopting a rescue dog from a shelter.
These dogs tend to have boundless love to give, and are often especially appreciative of finding their new forever home. Mixed breed dogs, often found in shelters, can have the best of multiple breeds, so make sure to consider them for your canine companion!
8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines That Can Cure the Blues
We consider these canines as the best dogs for depression due to their personality and behavior, but they are by no means the only dogs out there for those suffering from depression.
Still, if you’re not sure where to start, check these dogs out – they are sure to brighten your day!
Outgoing, funny, and intelligent are the words that the American Kennel Club uses to describe the Havanese. This small, medium-energy dog is a cheery ball of fluff that is sure to brighten up your day.
Besides regular grooming and mellow walking, Havanese generally should not be high-maintenance and are great companions to come home to. Havanese are also hypoallergenic and known for having great, easy-going personalities.
2) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This affectionate, gentle dog was a top pick for royalty back in the day. Their easygoing nature, small size, and medium energy level make them similar to the Havanese. However, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to have less hair and are slightly more active.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are laid back with children and other dogs. They are happy to snuggle on the couch or go for long walks in the park.
3) Border Collie
If you’re looking for a dog that will challenge you to get out, exercise, and work on training, look no further than the Border Collie.
Border Collies are incredibly intelligent and high-energy. These dogs need a lot of exercise, but if you’re up for the challenge, few dogs are more rewarding. Working on training and tricks with your Border Collie can be incredibly fun and motivating, as long as you are willing to dedicate the time and focus.
Border Collies can be huge cuddle buddies and are very affectionate. However, they can also be shy, so they need more early-life socialization than other dogs
4) Golden Retriever
It’s hard to beat a Golden when it comes to their goofy nature and playfulness.
Like the Border Collie, Golden Retrievers are a great option if you are looking for a dog to help you get out of the house, as they need a decent amount of exercise. These larger sized dogs generally love everyone and everything they meet, and are famous for their constant smiles.
Golden Retrievers and Golden mixes are generally good with children and all other pets. They are also incredibly trainable and smart, making it clear why they’re the third most popular breed in the US. However, if you’re not up for daily walking or play, the Golden may not be for you.
5) American Staffordshire Terrier
While Am-Staffs (as they’re commonly called) may look standoffish, they can be incredibly sweet companions.
American Staffordshire Terriers are in the “pit bull” unofficial group, but don’t let that deter you (especially since pit bulls really get a much worse rap than they deserve). Am-Staffs are smart, confident, and loyal.
Good-natured dogs with huge smiles, they love to play. They are known for being quite silly at times, and with proper early-life socialization, they will be great with kids, strangers, dogs, and small animals. They need less exercise than Border Collies or Golden Retrievers, and are between them size-wise.
Be careful to get them from a responsible breeder and ensure that your living space allows “pit bull” breeds. Owning an Am-Staff can be incredibly rewarding – these dogs are natural comforters and protectors.
This group of dogs includes greyhounds and whippets. Despite being bred for racing, these dogs are often major couch potatoes.
These dogs are calm and affectionate, and this group comes in a variety of sizes with similar temperaments. It’s hard to go wrong!
If you’re looking for a charming, small companion to brighten your day, pugs are a fantastic option.. These cute little dogs are playful with medium energy, and are known for being well-mannered. You can’t get much more different looks-wise from a whippet!
Their even tempers and loving personalities make pugs an American favorite. They are prone to breathing issues, making them not ideal for joggers, but a great option for apartment-dwellers short on running space.
8) Shiba Inu
Shibas – “inu” just means dog in Japanese – are known to be attentive, alert, and active.
These little dogs can be very catlike in their behavior, so be prepared for a playful but independent companion. They can be aloof and tricky to train, but their small size and easygoing nature makes up for this.
Shibas aren’t the best for novice owners who want a cuddle buddy, but their unique personality wins them many fans who are up for a challenge and aren’t huge fans of “velcro dogs” who can’t leave your side.
Quirky and fun, Shibas are sure to brighten up your life without adding too much of an exercise and social burden. While they are similar in size and energy level to pugs, these breeds are not interchangeable!
Do you have an emotional support pet, official or unofficial? How does your dog help you through the day? Share your experience in the comments!
Can Dogs Help With Depression?
As previously stated, countless studies have shown that owning a dog really does help with the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The way they do so can be summed up in five ways:
Unconditional Love and Affection: No matter what happens, most of our furry friends are just happy to be around us, and that happiness is often infectious. Petting a floofer releases oxytocin, which is our happiness, feel-good hormone. Pets, and dogs, in particular, can remind us that we simply are not alone, which is often helpful in the face of sometimes overbearing depression. They remind us that we are not worthless, that we are loved, and that not everything in the world is bad, simply by existing.
Altering Behavior: Similarly, it’s hard to be sad when you have a bouncing, joyful ball of fluff leaping all over you with slobbery kisses. When we pet our pooch, we often forget about daily annoyances and frustrations. The simple act of paying attention to our dog helps to calm our emotions, slowing our breath, our speech, and our minds. This calming behavior makes it easier for us to forget our sadness and facilitates improving relationships with others. They can distract us from depressive behavior, forcing us to show love to the spastic little dude in front of us.
Exercise: Regardless of whether your dog is lazy or not, the fact remains that all dogs, at some point, need to go to the bathroom. That involves their human going outside. Whether it’s just a walk around the block or your dog demands a hike or a game of fetch to exert your energy, owning a dog requires outside time. Scientifically, being outside reduces stress and the symptoms of depression. Exercise lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins, which can affect depressive moods. And it’s hard to be sad when your dog has a big ol’ grin on their face!
Structure and Responsibility: Having a dog means you have to be responsible. We have to feed, walk, and love our dog every day – there are no breaks. According to depression research, the simple fact of having a routine and responsibility promotes mental health. Watching our dog grow and thrive gives an owner purpose, reinforcing the fact that we are able to take care of another creature, and by association, ourselves as well. Being needed is a powerful combatant to the symptoms of depression.
Social Interaction: Let’s face it – your dog is adorable and perfect. Other people recognize that too! Walking your dog outside can inevitably lead to strangers coming up for pets and a quick conversation. Dogs are a conversation starter and can lead to forming new friendships and relationships. These social interactions are a kind of antidote to depression.
Pets and mental health
Walking a dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners and this helps owners to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier.
Pets and loneliness
A pet is great companion. They give owners company, a sense of security and someone to share the routine of the day with. Pets can be especially valuable company for those in later life and living alone.
Pets and people in later life
People in later life experiencing typical life stresses can be comforted by a companion pet. It is thought that a dog can be a stress buffer that softens the effects of adverse events on a person. With an animal in the home, people with Alzheimer’s are thought to have fewer anxious outbursts.
Pets and children with ADHD
Children with ADHD can benefit from working with and keeping a pet. Taking charge of the jobs on a pet care schedule, such as feeding, walking and bathing, helps a child learn to plan and be responsible.
Pets need to play, and playing with a pet is an great way to release excess energy. Your child can burn off energy walking a dog or running around with a kitten, making them more relaxed later in the day and calmer at night. Fresh air and good circulation from aerobic exercise increases oxygen-filled blood flow to a child’s brain, therefore increasing their ability to concentrate.
Children with ADHD are used to their parents trying to calm them down or reprimanding them. A pet is a great listener, and offers unconditional love and will not criticize a child for having too much energy. This can aid a child’s self-confidence.
Pets and Autism
Sensory issues are common among children with autism. Sensory integration activities are designed to help them get used to the way something feels against their skin or how it smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both been used for this purpose. Children with autism often find it calming to work with animals.
It has been claimed that in the case of people with autism, animals can reduce stereotyped behavior, lessen sensory sensitivity, and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others. Further research into this area needs to be carried out however.
We carried out a study with Cats Protection in 2011 which involved over 600 cat- and non-cat-owning respondents, with half of them describing themselves as currently having a mental health problem. The survey found that 87% of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76% said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends.
Half of the cat owners felt that their cat’s presence and companionship was most helpful, followed by a third of respondents who described stroking a cat as a calming and helpful activity.
6 Ways Pets Relieve Depression
The day I returned from inpatient therapy, my Lab-Chow mix cuddled up to me on the bed as I cried. She looked into my defeated gaze and licked my tears.
I was astounded that this creature was capable of the empathy that I so craved in my closest friends and relatives. It was like she could read the pathetic and sad thoughts that disabled me and wanted me to know I was lovable in the midst of my suffering.
She continues to be a supportive presence in my life, especially on the days that I grow weary of trying on — and throwing out — every mindful exercise and cognitive behavioral strategy… the hours where staying positive seems impossible. She gets it. I know she does.
Every week I hear tales of four-legged creatures becoming angels in times of terrifying darkness. Indeed, a substantial body of research indicates that pets improve our mental health.
How? Here are a few ways.
1. Pets offer a soothing presence.
Studies indicate that merely watching fish lowers blood pressure and muscle tension in people about to undergo oral surgery. That’s why all the aquariums in dentists’ offices! Think of the behavior Darla in Disney Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” would have exhibited without the fish tank.
Other research shows that pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate both before and while performing stressful mental tasks — like, say, performing a family intervention or supervising kids’ homework. Finally, persons recovering from heart attacks recover more quickly and survive longer when there is a pet at home. It seems as though their mere presence is beneficial.
2. Pets offer unconditional love and acceptance.
As far as we know, pets are without opinions, critiques, and verdicts. Even if you smell like their poop, they will snuggle up next to you. In a Johns Hopkins Depression & Anxiety Bulletin, Karen Swartz, M.D. mentions a recent study where nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely with some quiet time with a dog alone than a visit with both a dog and other residents.
The study enrolled 37 nursing home residents who scored high on a loneliness scale and who were interested in receiving weekly half-hour visits from dogs. Half of the residents had quiet time alone with the pooches. The other half shared the dog with other nursing home residents. Both groups said they felt less lonely after the visit, but the decrease in loneliness was much more significant among the residents that had the dogs all to themselves. In other words, at times we prefer our four-legged friends to our mouthy pals because we can divulge our innermost thoughts and not be judged.
3. Pets alter our behavior.
Here’s a typical scenario. I come through the door in the evening and I’m annoyed. At what, I don’t know. A million little snafus that happened throughout the day. I am dangerously close to taking it out on someone. However, before I can do that, my Lab-Chow walks up to me and pats me, wanting some attention. So I kneel down and pet her. She licks my face, and I smile. Voila! She altered my behavior. I am only agitated a little now and chances are much better that someone will not become a casualty of my frustrations. We calm down when we are with our dogs, cats, lizards, and pigs. We slow our breath, our speech, our minds. We don’t hit as many people or use as many four-lettered words.
4. Pets distract.
Pets are like riveting movies and books. They take us out of our heads and into another reality – one that only involves food, water, affection, and maybe an animal butt – for as long as we can allow. I’ve found distraction to be the only effective therapy when you’ve hit a point where there is no getting your head back. It’s tough to ruminate about how awful you feel and will feel forever when your dog is breathing in your face.
5. Pets promote touch.
The healing power of touch is undisputed. Research indicates a 45-minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and optimize your immune system by building white blood cells. Hugging floods our bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. And, according to a University of Virginia study, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center. The touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat clues. It’s not surprising, then, that stroking a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost levels of serotonin and dopamine.
6. Pets make us responsible.
With pets come great responsibility, and responsibility — according to depression research — promotes mental health. Positive psychologists assert that we build our self-esteem by taking ownership of a task, by applying our skills to a job. When we succeed — i.e., the pet is still alive the next day — we reinforce to ourselves that we are capable of caring for another creature as well as ourselves. That’s why chores are so important in teaching adolescents self-mastery and independence.
Taking care of a pet also brings structure to our day. Sleeping until noon is no longer a possibility unless you want to spend an hour cleaning up the next day. Staying out all night needs some preparation and forethought.
For More Information About Depression:
6 Ways Pets Relieve Depression
The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets
Pets come with some powerful mental health benefits. Here’s how caring for a dog or cat can help you cope with depression, anxiety, and stress.
Most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond.
Pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling (and to work out when the next walk or treat might be coming, of course).
Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
Studies have found that:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
- Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
- While people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
How pets can help you make healthy lifestyle changes
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes plays an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Caring for a pet can help you make healthy lifestyle changes by:
Increasing exercise. Taking a dog for a walk, hike or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behavior problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.
Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a live animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat.
Helping you meet new people. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Dog owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Because pets live in the moment—they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present.
Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one plaintive look from your pet and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.
Providing sensory stress relief. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animal can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.
Get a dog, lose weight
A number of studies have linked owning a dog to losing weight:
- A year-long study at the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago found that walking an overweight dog helped both the animals and their owners shed unwanted pounds. Researchers found that the dogs provided support in similar ways to a human exercise buddy, but with greater consistency and without any negative influence.
- Another study by the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction found that public housing residents who walked therapy dogs for up to 20 minutes five days a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds in a year, without changing their diets.
- A third study, conducted by dog food manufacturer Mars Petcare, found that people with a dog walked 30 minutes more per week than they did before owning a dog.
The health benefits of pets for older adults
As well as providing vital companionship, owning a pet can play an important role in healthy aging by helping you to:
Find meaning and joy in life. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your life purpose. You may retire from your career or your children may move far away. Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth. Choosing to adopt a pet from a shelter, especially an older pet, can add to your sense of fulfillment, knowing that you’ve provided a home to a pet that may otherwise have been euthanized.
Stay connected. Maintaining a social network isn’t always easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends can get harder. Pets, especially dogs, are a great way for older adults to spark up conversations and meet new people.
Boost your vitality. You can overcome many of the physical challenges associated with aging by taking good care of yourself. Dogs and cats encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, which can help boost your immune system and increase your energy.
How pets help adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
As part of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients may exhibit a variety of behavioral problems, many related to an inability to deal with stress.
- Research at the University of California at Davis concluded that Alzheimer’s patients suffer less stress and have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a dog or cat in the home.
- Pets can provide a source of positive, nonverbal communication. The playful interaction and gentle touch from a well-trained, docile animal can help soothe an Alzheimer’s patient and decrease aggressive behavior.
- In many cases a patient’s problem behavior is a reaction to the stressed response of the primary caretaker. Pets can help ease the stress of caregivers. Cats or caged animals may be more suitable than dogs, which generally require more care and can add to the burden of someone who’s already looking after an Alzheimer’s patient.
The health benefits for children
Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having a dog or cat.
- Unlike parents or teachers, pets are never critical and don’t give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security in children. Having an ever-present pet can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t around.
- Having the love and companionship of a pet can make a child feel important and help them develop a positive self-image.
- Kids who are emotionally attached to their pets are better able to build relationships with other people.
- Studies have also shown that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids. Of course, both the animal and the child need to be trained to behave appropriately with each other.
Children and adults alike can benefit from playing with pets, which can provide a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body. Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child. It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance. Caring for a furry friend can also offer another benefit to a child: immense joy.
Children with learning disorders and other challenges
Some children with autism or other learning difficulties are better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as animals do. And learning to first connect with a pet may even help an autistic child in their interactions with people.
- Pets can help children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of their disorder.
- Playing and exercising with a dog or cat can help a child with learning disorders stay alert and attentive throughout the day. It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration caused by the learning disability.
Owning a pet is a major commitment
A pet is not a miracle cure for mental illness. Owning a pet is beneficial and comforting only for those who love and appreciate domestic animals and have the time and money to keep a pet happy and healthy. If you’re simply not an “animal person,” pet ownership is not going to provide you with any health benefits or improve your life.
Even if you love animals, it’s important to understand everything that caring for a pet entails. Owning a pet is a commitment that will last through the animal’s lifetime, perhaps 10 or 15 years in the case of dogs. And at the end of that commitment, you’ll face the grief and mourning that comes with losing a beloved companion.
Other drawbacks to owning a pet are:
Pets cost money. Food bills, veterinary care, licenses, grooming costs, toys, bedding, boarding fees, and other maintenance expenses can mount up. If you’re unemployed or elderly, on a limited fixed income, it may be a struggle to cope with the expense of pet ownership.
Pets require time and attention. As any dog owner will tell you, there’s nothing therapeutic about coming home to a dog that has been locked up in the house on his own all day long. Dogs need daily exercise to stay calm and well-balanced; most other pets require at least daily care and attention.
Owning a pet can curb some of your social activity. A dog can only be left alone for a limited time. By training your dog, you’ll be able to take him with you to visit friends, run errands, or sit outside a coffee shop, for example, but you won’t be able to leave for a spur of the moment weekend away without arranging care for your pet first.
Pets can be destructive. Any pet can have an occasional accident at home. Some cats may be prone to shredding upholstery, some dogs to chewing shoes. While training can help eradicate negative, destructive behavior, they remain common in animals left alone without exercise or stimulation for long periods of time.
Pets require responsibility. Most dogs, regardless of size and breed, are capable of inflicting injury on people if not handled responsibly by their owners. Even cats can scratch or bite. Pet owners need to be alert to any danger, especially around children.
Pets carry health risks for some people. While there are some diseases that can be transmitted from cats and dogs to their human handlers, allergies are the most common health risk of pet ownership. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with a pet allergy, carefully consider whether you can live with the symptoms before committing to pet ownership. Also consider that some friends or relatives with allergies may no longer be able to visit your home if you have a pet.
How to find the perfect pet
If you’ve decided that owning a pet is right for you, congratulations: you’re about to open your life to a unique and rewarding relationship. While people who have pets tend to be happier, more independent, and feel more secure than those without pets, it’s important to select the type of pet that best suits your needs and lifestyle.
Talk to other members of your household and agree on the qualities you want in a pet and those that you’d prefer to avoid. In the case of dogs, man’s best friend comes in countless breeds or mix of breeds, each offering a different blend of personality traits:
- Do you want an active dog or one that doesn’t need a lot of exercise?
- Who will look after the dog? Will your children really follow through on their promises?
- How much time will the dog spend alone each day? Do you intend to hire a dog walker or take the animal to daycare?
- How big is your living space? Do you have enough room for a large breed?
- Do you live with young children or someone frail or disabled who would do better with a gentle breed?
- How much shedding can you tolerate?
- Do you want a puppy that needs training and housebreaking or a full-grown dog that is already trained?
Purebred vs. mixed breed dogs
If you have a specific breed of dog in mind, you can look for a rescue group that caters to that breed or seek out a reputable breeder. Ask for a referral from other dog owners, a veterinarian, or a local breed club or rescue group, but remember: a reputable breeder will always want to meet you before selling you a dog to ensure that you’ll be a suitable, responsible owner.
Of course, you can also find purebred dogs in shelters—where they’ll cost substantially less than from a breeder—as well as many different types of mixed breed dogs. Mixed breed dogs usually have fewer health problems than their purebred cousins, often have better dispositions, and tend to adapt more easily to a new home. With a purebred, though, it’s easier to know what to expect in regards to size, behavior and health—you’d need to know the different mix of breeds to determine the same of a mutt. Of course, the breed or mix of breeds doesn’t solely determine the character of a dog—much of that is up to you and the kind of home and training you provide for your pet.
Shelter and rescue animals
Whether mixed breed or a purebred, dogs and cats adopted from a shelter or rescue group make excellent pets. For the most part, a pet ends up in a shelter through no fault of his own. His owner may have died or moved to a place that doesn’t allow pets, or the pet may have simply been abandoned by irresponsible owners who bought him on a whim and later discovered that they were unable or unwilling to care for him properly. If any shelter or rescue animal exhibits aggressive behavior, he is typically euthanized rather than offered for adoption.
Rescue groups try to find suitable homes for unwanted or abandoned dogs and cats, many taken from shelters where they would otherwise have been euthanized. Volunteers usually take care of the animals until they can find a permanent home. This means that rescuers are often very familiar with a pet’s personality and can help advise you on whether the pet would make a good match for your needs. By adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue organization, you’ll not only be giving a home to a deserving pet, but you’ll also likely be saving an animal’s life.
Avoid puppies sold in pet stores or online
Pet stores that care about puppies don’t sell them. That’s because the majority of pet stores that sell puppies carry dogs from cruel and inhumane puppy mills. Puppy mills are like dog-making factories where the mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages or kennels with little or no personal attention or quality of life. When the mother and father dogs can no longer breed, they are discarded or killed. Consumers who purchase puppies from pet stores or over the Internet without seeing a breeder’s home firsthand are often unknowingly supporting this cruel industry.
Help stop this cycle of cruelty simply by choosing to adopt your next pet from a shelter or rescue group, or by purchasing a dog only from a responsible breeder who will show you where your puppy was born and raised.
Source: The Humane Society of the United States
Alternatives to pet ownership
If you don’t have the time, money, or stamina to own a pet full-time, there are still ways you can experience the health benefits of being around animals. Even short periods spent with a dog or cat can benefit both you and the animal.
You can ask to walk a neighbor’s dog, for example, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Most animal shelters or rescue groups welcome volunteers to help care for homeless pets or assist at adoption events. You’ll not only be helping yourself, but also helping to socialize and exercise the animals, making them more adoptable.
Some animal shelters and rescue groups offer pet “rental” programs. Dogs and cats that are available for adoption can be rented out for walks or play dates. You can also foster an animal temporarily until a permanent home is found for him, or to decide if the animal is right for you.
A variety of different organizations offer specially trained therapy dogs and cats to visit children’s hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospice programs, shelters, and schools. During these visits, people are invited to pet and stroke the animals, which can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
6 Amazing Ways Dogs Can Help Those Suffering From Depression
Are you currently stuck in the mental black hole that is depression? Do you worry that your life is never going to get better and that you will never feel normal again? Maybe the words “happy” and “fun” have lost all meaning in your life. Perhaps your life has become a charade of pretending to the world that you’re okay when you actually feel empty inside.
The good news is that it is possible to feel normal again. The better news is that owning a dog is one tool that may make a huge difference in your battle against depression. Keeping in mind that therapy and/or medication should still be an important part of your journey toward feeling better, here are 6 amazing ways that dogs can help those suffering from depression.
How a dog can help
Owning a dog can provide a wide variety of both physical and mental benefits, which of course go hand in hand. Anybody who’s ever been treated for depression or another mental illness has been told repeatedly how important diet, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle choices are for improving your mental health.
Of course, those same mental health professionals don’t seem to understand how incredibly difficult it can be to make those sorts of changes when you are suffering from depression. Here are some ways having a dog can help you feel better, both physically and mentally.
-Exercise. The greatest benefit of having a dog over a cat is that dogs must be taken outside for walks. Sure, a small dog could be trained to use potty pads, and people with enclosed yards may not feel the need to take their dog on an actual walk, but all dogs (and their people) benefit from regular walks.
Getting a dog with the knowledge that it will need to be walked can be a great way to start improving your health. Plus, a lack of sunlight is proven to have a negative effect on people’s mental health, so walking a dog can force you to get outside and expose yourself to some much-needed Vitamin D.
-Meeting new people. Taking your dog for a walk or to the dog park is a great way to meet other people who love dogs as much as you do. Depression can be very isolating, so meeting people is crucial to starting the process of feeling better.
-Companionship. Everybody needs to feel loved, and if you can’t get that from humans, a dog is a great way to receive the unconditional love you may be craving. Studies have shown that companionship provided by dogs can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and lead to fewer or less severe heart attacks. Unfortunately, loneliness and depression go hand in hand, so having a pet is a great way to combat loneliness, which can help improve symptoms of depression.
-Reducing anxiety. Pets are proven to help reduce anxiety in people. Between their excellent cuddling skills and their ability to listen to your worries without interrupting, dogs can be a great distraction from the nightmare of excessive anxiety that may accompany depression.
-Routine. Dogs need a routine to be happy. They like to be fed and walked at the same times every day. It turns out, people thrive on routines as well. Once you develop a good routine for your dog, you can start adding healthy activities to your own routine, which can help speed your recovery.
-Stress relief. Petting a dog is a proven way to reduce stress levels.
What you should consider before getting a dog
-Dogs need time and attention. Your dog doesn’t care if you’re too depressed to get out of bed – he still needs walked, fed, and loved. This can be a benefit, if you need a reason to get out of bed in the morning, but you may grow to resent your dog for needing love you feel incapable of giving.
-They may be destructive. Dogs need training, guidance, exercise, and attention. Without all of these, they may become destructive. They might pee or poop in the house, chew up your favorite pair of shoes, or dig holes in the back yard. If you can’t stand the possibility of having some destruction in your life, you should seriously consider not adding a dog to your life – or at least avoid getting a young puppy who hasn’t learned the rules of the world yet.
-Taking care of a pet is a big responsibility. For some people who struggle with depression, the responsibility of caring for a pet can lead them to taking better care of themselves. For others, the responsibility of caring for another living thing when they are incapable of caring for their own basic needs can be overwhelming. You should carefully consider how you might react to having the added responsibility of caring for a pet.
-Costs can add up. Adopting a dog can cost $70-300 or more. Buying a puppy usually costs even more than that. Then you need to factor in a collar and leash, food bowls, treats, food, grooming, vaccinations and other vet visits, and various other expenses. These costs can add up quickly, especially if your dog becomes sick or injured.
It’s not fair to your dog to get matted because you can’t afford to get him groomed or be in pain because you can’t afford to take him to the vet. The first-year cost of adopting and caring for a dog can easily top $1000. If you’re on a limited income, you should think carefully before adding a dog to your family.
Should your dog be certified as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
There are numerous websites that will sell you a fake certification to claim your pet is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) in order to allow you to bring your dog onto airplanes and into pet-free housing without any fees, but these websites are all fraudulent.
There is no national registry for service dogs or emotional support animals. The only legitimate way to have an ESA is to have a certified mental health professional or a physician write a prescription for an ESA saying that your pet is part of a continuing treatment program. You should be currently under a therapy and/or medication program with the aim of improving your depression or mental illness.
While ESAs are allowed into housing and onto airplanes, they do not have all the same rights as service dogs. They are not allowed into restaurants or other businesses that forbid pets. For more on the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs, check out this article.
Other ways to help improve symptoms of depression
Of course, getting a dog shouldn’t be the only option you consider to improve your depression. Therapy and/or medication can make a huge difference in your quality of life. The trick is to find a mental health professional that you like and trust, which can be easier said than done, especially if you don’t have exceptional health insurance.
The good news is that there are many different types of therapy and tons of different medications to help you out. The bad news is that it can take a long time to figure out which treatments work best for you. It takes an incredible amount of patience, but you don’t have to feel like this forever.
You don’t need somebody else to tell you, but it’s important to mention again the importance of a healthy diet and exercise program when it comes to improving your mental health. The long-term health effects from eating, exercising, or even sleeping too much or too little can stick with you long after your mental health improves, and as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.
There are a number of “alternative” treatments for depression ranging from supplements to acupuncture to meditation. It’s up to you to do the research and understand the risks and benefits of each. Alternative treatments often work best in conjunction with more traditional methods of improving depression rather than as standalone treatments.
For more information on pet adoption and the mental health benefits of pet ownership, check out TheRecoveryVillage.com.
If your depression is severe enough that you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please do not hesitate to ask for help. Call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
As a fellow sufferer (I have bipolar disorder with recurrent depression), I can promise you that it does get better. The key to getting better is to BE PERSISTENT about getting help. It may take a long time to feel better, but I promise you that the effort is worth it!
(H/T: Help Guide, WebMD, Help Guide)
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Written by Jennifer Nelson
How Dogs Help Symptoms of Depression
Dogs can help symptoms of depression because they are socially gregarious pack animals and instinctively form close bonds with other members of their “pack” or family. By their very nature, they will help provide emotional support to other members of their pack by being loyal and affectionate companions.
- The sheer presence of a dog is calming – you’re instinctively drawn to stroke or pet them. This can be especially helpful for people suffering from anxiety disorders or panic attacks
- The sense of touch is hugely beneficial psychologically – the act of stroking your pet can be soothing, and so improve your mood if you are down or depressed. It can also lower your blood pressure and stress levels.
Affection and Self Esteem
- Pets are uncomplicated – they don’t have their own agendas and they love you unconditionally
- Caring for another living being and receiving affection in return is great for anyone’s self-esteem – especially if you are lonely, bereaved or depressed.
Reducing Isolation and loneliness
- Dogs are a talking point and “social lubricant”- small as it may seem a simple exchange of pleasantries between dog owners in the park can be hugely helpful if you are feeling isolated, depressed or anxious. They also tend to be a good supply of silly stories to help break the ice
- Dog-related activities can form the beginnings of new hobbies, friendships. Activities vary from basic obedience to flyball or dog agility classes.
- In rescuing a support dog you are taking on responsibility for the care and wellbeing of another living being, even if it has four paws instead of two legs! Hugely rewarding though it may be, its also a big responsibility and not a small undertaking to be cast aside or left behind lightly. When you are feeling rock bottom your responsibility as guardian to the dog you rescued can be a lifeline.
- In rescuing a dog, you are effectively acquiring a new member of your family or pack, which, like any relationship, will grow with trust, respect, loving bonds but also bring its share of relationshp tension and challenges to be worked through, much like a relationship with a human family member might do.
Managing Thoughts and Feelings
- Dogs don’t understand our verbal conversation, they read us at a much more fundamental level of energy and emotional state – you can’t lie to a dog ! They instictively know when you are projective negative energy because you are feeling down, upset and respond.
- Dog’s behave best when they are exposed to positive calm assertive energy, if you are stressed, tense, anxious, frustrated, or upset, your dog will be less responsive to your commands and more likely to, say, pull on the lead or not return when you call. To be a successful calm assertive pack leader for your dog, you first need to be self aware of your own emotions and state of mind and how affects your dog.
- When you achieve a calm, assertive, confident state of mind, your dog wiill perform at his best and be your perfect companion. Over time acquiring the skill of being a calm assertive pack leader will help you manage your mind, emotions and stress levels more effectively, enabling you to cope better with life’s difficulties and stay positive more often.
Exercise and Routine
- Dogs get you out of the house – fresh air, physical exercise and a change of scene are proven to help boost people’s mood and ease depression symptoms
- Caring for a dog helps form a daily routine and structure that can help keep you going, one foot after the other. No matter how depressed you are, your dog still needs feeding and walking!
- Last but far from least – they really can make you laugh in spite of your depression when they inevitably do very silly, daft things
How has your dog helped you?
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