Pet therapy for depression

Alleviating Anxiety, Stress and Depression with the Pet Effect

Looking for relief from anxiety, depression or stress? If you live in one of the 80 million U.S. households with a pet, you may be able to find help right at home in the form of a wet nose or a wagging tail. You can call it the pet effect.

Any pet owner will tell you that living with a pet comes with many benefits, including constant companionship, love and affection. It’s also no surprise that 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. Not only are people happier in the presence of animals, they’re also healthier. In a survey of pet owners, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership.

The field of human-animal bond research is dedicated to studying the health benefits of pets and human-animal interaction. Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain. Science demonstrates that these biological responses have measurable clinical effects.

Specifically, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions. A 2016 study explored the role of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem and found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support. Studies have also shown that pets are facilitators of getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is working hard to increase our knowledge of the health benefits of pets. Over the past four years, HABRI has funded approximately $2 million in research projects all aimed at exploring the health benefits of human-animal interaction in three broad categories; child health and development, healthy aging, and mental health and wellness. HABRI Central, HABRI’s online database, houses, classifies and archives research and information on the science of the human-animal bond, and is home to more than 28,000 resources.

As the field of research grows, HABRI continues to raise awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership and animal-assisted intervention. HABRI is proud to be partnering with ADAA and other important organizations to share information and resources on this topic. Major institutions in human medicine including Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard Medical School, UCLA Heath and the Mayo Clinic are increasingly recognizing the benefits of pets to human health. This acknowledgement shows that efforts to build and share scientific research on the human-animal bond are also making a difference for our health.

While getting a pet, seeking pet therapy, or finding ways to spend more time with your companion animal are great ways to support mental health, this information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. HABRI wants people to be healthy by including pets in their lives, safely and responsibly.

I encourage all of you to learn more about HABRI and the pet effect. Together, we can all experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.

Posted November, 2018

Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). HABRI is working to establish, through science and advocacy, the vital role of companion animals in the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. To learn more about HABRI, visit

A History Of Therapy Dogs For Depression

Animals play a major role in the human experience. We interact with them in nature, eat them for food, and (best of all!) keep them as pets. We learn so much from animals, and most of us may not realize how much they actually help us. Not only are they a form of sustenance and nourishment for our bodies (sorry vegetarians!), but animals can help us psychologically and emotionally. It is not a new idea to have animals be a part of the mental healing process for human patients in therapy. What is rather new is the widespread acceptance and volunteerism that follows Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) nowadays.

Animal-Assisted Therapy Began with the Ancient Greeks

AAT has roots that trace all the way back to the ancient Greeks. As history would have it, they were the first to use animals, specifically horses, to lift the spirits of the severely ill. Then, in the 1600s, physicians were reported to have been using horses to improve the physical and mental health of their patients. Farm animals were also used in the 1940s by the American Red Cross on a farm where veterans suffering from injury or illness could take care of the animals to further their recovery. It was said that working with the farm animals helped the veterans put their minds on something besides war and other associated traumas.

Animal-Assisted Used in Medieval Belguim

Pet animals were first used for therapeutic use in medieval Belgium. Interestingly enough, in this Belgian society, humans and animals were rehabilitated together. The animals were used for the humans’ therapy. It’s likely that interacting with humans provided the animals with a companionship that mirrored what they could offer. In reaction to practices such as this, animal therapy became a hot topic in academia. In the 1800s, Florence Nightingale observed that small pets reduced the levels of anxiety and stress in adult and youth psychiatric patients. This began a wave of informal experiments involving animal interaction with humans to produce a calming effect on patients suffering from anxiety. An Austrian Nobel laureate in Physiology and a psychologist were so intrigued by the connection between humans and animals that they developed an idea called the Human-Animal Bond. This theory described how humans need interaction with animals and nature to normalize the busyness of daily life. Dr. Sigmund Freud even used his pet pup in his practice. He believed his dog could tell the truest character in a human. The dog would remain close to patients who were free from tension and stress, and remain on the other side of the room from those who were not. Freud also used his dog to calm young patients with anxiety.

First Formal Research Into Animal-Assisted Therapy

During the 1960s, the first formal research involving animal therapy began. Dr. Boris Levinson found that his dog had a positive effect on mentally impaired young patients. Specifically, he discovered that these patients were more comfortable and likely to socialize with his dog than with other humans. It wasn’t until Freud’s findings were translated and published years after his death that Levinson’s findings were considered valid. This demonstrates the controversy surrounding the topic of formalized animal therapy and makes it even more impressive that today it is so extensive. The noticeable changes in human behavior when interacting with animals is the main reason why AAT has become such an integral part of today’s therapeutic practices.

It is probably apparent that pets have a positive effect on the mental health of humans. But can an animal therapy help you outside of clinical therapy? Studies show that owning a pet can help you live a longer, happier, and healthier life. Dogs, specifically, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease in their loving owners. For those who had suffered a heart attack, owning a dog or a cat decreased the risk of enduring another heart attack. Additionally, owners were alive for at least a year after the heart attack, regardless of the severity. So it would seem that animals know the way to our hearts. Pets are also especially helpful to the elderly, who may be struggling with feelings of depression and loneliness. Pets ease aggression presented by those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. They also provide the elderly with companionship and someone to take care of, reducing feelings of helplessness that is so common among the sick and the old. Furthermore, pets are great for teaching children responsibility and reducing a child’s risk of allergies and asthma. This is because having a pet around changes the microbiome of a person. It goes to show that even just owning a pet can cause significantly positive changes in your overall health and mental well-being.

Certification by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs

In 1989, the Delta Society, a group focused on animal education, invented a certification program to ensure the proficiency and success of animals providing AAT. More certifications have since popped up, but the basics remain those laid out by the Delta Society. Certifications for pets to train in AAT can be received through The Alliance of Therapy Dogs. After your pet passes the testing process, all you need to do is pay a low annual fee for membership. Then, you and your pet can begin to help those in need wherever you go. Given the tremendous results seen in patients since the beginning of unformalized AAT until now, you and your pet should join and become a part of history.

Sometimes when you’re down, all it takes is a lick to the face or a furry cuddle to lift your spirits. If you can’t own a dog yourself, spending time with dogs via family, friends, or as a pet sitter can give you some much-needed dog love. But what if your stress runs deep, or you’re anxious and nervous to leave the house, or find yourself severely depressed—can a dog still help bring you back?

There are many stories about how dogs have helped individuals with depression; Julie Barton’s poignant memoir Dog Medicine

is among the best-known. What’s exciting is that formal research also shows that service and companion animals are effective in treating depression and anxiety, as well as improving overall health.

It’s possible to train a dog for service certification without going through an organization, though it takes a lot of work. A well-reviewed guide like this one is a good starting place. Also, certain breeds are more commonly used for service work, but many different breeds can make wonderful therapy animals.

How Service Dogs Help Humans with Anxiety and Depression

The therapeutic power of pets is well documented; having an animal can help treat anxiety or depression, or simply brighten your day. Photo courtesy of The Elizabeth Hospice.

Often times, those with depression or anxiety avoid contact with the outside world, either out of fear or stress of what might happen.

“Anxiety and depression involve emotional turmoil and negative internal ‘self-talk,’” Dr. Katie Kangas, co-founder of the Pet Wellness Academy, explains. “These thoughts typically spiral into unrealistic negativity and this continues in a vicious cycle.”

Dogs help break that cycle by providing comforting companionship and a sense of purpose for their owners.

Dr. Kangas and Certified Behaviorist Colleen Demling weigh in on some of the other ways dogs can help those suffering from depression:

  • Responsibility for their well-being. “A dog needs to be fed, needs to be walked, and needs to be pet, so on days when a person feels least motivated, a thump of a happy tail motivates a person to get back to living,” Demling says.
  • Unconditional love. “This 100% acceptance without judgment when a person is depressed, anxious, lonely, wearing the same clothes as yesterday and can’t get out of bed helps people feel like they have a true friend during their difficulties,” Demling says.
  • Recognize signs of a panic attack. “The mere presence or non-reaction to a stimulus of a trusted companion often calms an attack,” Demling explains. “Dogs can also be trained to use passive methods to block strangers from approaching their handler unexpectedly.”
  • Staying connected. “In today’s society, with the advance of internet and technological connection, we are losing real interpersonal connection, and that is contributing to more emotional problems and disorders,” Dr. Kangas explains. “Love and connection does exist in the world, and animals are a great resource to find this within one’s life.”

Service Dogs Helping People Cope with PTSD

There are a growing number of organizations dedicated to training service dogs to help those suffering from PTSD, particularly veterans. In fact, dogs have been proven so effective at helping combat anxiety, stress, and depression, the government provides funding to these groups.

Matt and his dog Dozer from K9 For Warriors.

K9s For Warriors is a little different. The program was founded by Shari Duval, the mother of former K9 police officer and Iraqi combat veteran Brett Simon, who returned from two tours of duty with PTSD. They accept no government funding, relying instead on the generosity of donors, and there are no out-of-pocket costs for participants for the 21-day program or for their service animal. In their first year, they wanted to help a dozen service members a year—now with expanded facilities, they serve nearly 200.

Matt Masingill is the Lead Warrior Trainer for K9s For Warriors. He came to the group first as a participant, and with a bit of hesitation.

“I was skeptical, but my wife thought it was a good idea, so I came,” Masingill says.

“It is a life-altering experience. The dog is just there for you; there’s no judgment, no negative feedback.”

Before Warriors, Masingill says daily life was difficult.

“Like so many other vets, I went to the VA and they thought drugs were the option,” Masingill explains. “It wasn’t helping or mitigating my symptoms, it was just masking them. I didn’t leave my house—I just suffered from a lot of anger and paranoia.”

But all that changed less than a year after being paired with his service dog, Dozer.

“In the first 270 days, I had 248 violent nightmares,” Masingill recalls. “Dozer woke me from 228 of them, which allowed me to get out of the miserable sleep pattern I was in, and get off the sleep and depression medications.”

Now, he’s helping other warriors. The organization rescues dogs they think will be good service animals, most of them with no time left at the shelter, and trains the dogs to recognize the signs of a panic attack, helping calm their veteran and get them on the road to recovery.

“Rescue a dog to save a vet, that’s how I see it,” Masingill says.

For Masingill, the job has become another form of treatment.

“I still fight everyday, but K9s is perpetual therapy,” he explains. “We just want to spread the word.”

K9s For Warriors also helps people with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). They do have a waiting list but encourage anyone who needs help to inquire and apply online.

Pet Therapy—Making Spirits Bright

Dogs aren’t just used as service animals—they are also used as therapy animals, visiting the elderly or sick in their homes or hospice care.

Tali has been a therapy dog for six years, brightening the spirits of patients in hospice care or people in nursing homes. Photo courtesy of Lisa Marcolongo.

Lisa Marcolongo has teamed up with her golden/Labrador retriever mix Tali to visit people over the past six years. Marcolongo also works part-time at The Elizabeth Hospice in San Diego, where residents love their four-legged visitors.

“They enjoy her presence and the warmth Tali brings,” Marcolongo says. “She puts her head in their lap so they can touch her head and she has been trained to gently get into bed and cuddle with them, so they feel that warmth. I think whenever people are not feeling well, touch and warmth are very important.”

Seeing dogs around also spark fond memories of life with dogs prior to the nursing home or hospice.

“There are some patients with dementia who may not remember what they had for breakfast that morning but a lot of times, they remember the animals they had growing up,” Marcolongo explains.

Here’s how it works: Pet therapy teams coordinate with social workers who offer a list of services to potential patients, dog therapy included. If the patient chooses pet therapy as part of their care, a team will be contacted and paired up with the patient.

There are also groups that visit nursing homes. Love on a Leash, a non-profit group in Southern California, will credential pet therapy teams and assign them to other agencies in need.

“It’s something the residents look forward to,” Marcolongo says. “It’s nice to see the response from the patients. It just brightens their day.”

Getting a Service or Therapy Dog

Colleen Demling partnered with the San Diego Armed Services YMCA to help develop and maintain their Therapy Dog Program and has consulted with numerous private clients on their Service and Emotional Support Dog training needs. She says people might be surprised to learn not all organizations that provide service dogs are created equal.

“There is really no clearinghouse to start your search for a service dog,” Demling explains. “There are a lot of organizations popping up, trying to take a bit of the government money available for programs geared towards wounded warriors or civilians who have PTSD.”

Two sites where people can get educated and start the search by comparing organizations:

  • Delta Society
  • Assistance Dogs International (ADI)

Two organizations Demling particularly recommends are Canine Companions for Independence and Guide Dogs of America.

“I recommend calling one of these organizations and asking for guidance,” Demling says. “They are well-respected organizations so they are probably going to know other well-respected organizations that are training dogs for PTSD and other disabilities.”

Demling says don’t be afraid to look into a service animal if you think you won’t qualify.

“The only requirement for a dog to become a service dog is for a person to have a disability as defined by the ADA and the dog has a skill that is taught that directly assists that disability,” Demling explains.

If you have a minor disability, you may be able to train the dog yourself but most people will seek the help of larger organizations, which makes it important to check first with the two groups mentioned above. Any organization you work with should provide extensive training of at least a week with the dog either at your home or the group’s site.

“It allows the organization to give you the skill set to work with the dog and to make sure there is a personality match,” Demling explains. “They should help you problem-solve any difficulties you might have as they transfer the dog to you—they are hands-on, eyes-on to fix it.”

The cost of being paired with a service dog should be nominal or nonexistent.

“The larger non-profit organizations are funded independently through grants and fundraisers,” Demling says. “With a for-profit group, they will give you a service dog but will charge you $6,000. There are organizations that are chasing the money first and trying to help the person second.”

The Bottom Line

When someone is suffering from anxiety or depression, it may seem like there is no hope, but the unconditional love of a furry friend can turn their life around.

“Dogs can provide a powerful grounding, connecting, and healing force in our lives,” Dr. Kangas says. “What a beautiful thing!”

Top image via Flickr/Ohio University Library

Pet Therapy and Depression

Bella, a 17-pound Shih Tzu, rarely leaves Peter Ashenden’s side.

“Bella goes everywhere with me, whether it be a gala dinner or board meetings,” he says. “She is my companion. By having Bella with me, it brings a piece of home with me wherever I go.”

Why would Ashenden, the president and CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, bring his pup with him everywhere? Because he has bipolar disorder — and he credits Bella with keeping his mood level and steady, even on his worst days.

How Pets Help Treat Depression

Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health as a type of psychotherapy for treating depression and other mood disorders. Being around pets appears to feed the soul, promoting a sense of emotional connectedness and overall well-being.

Like other people with therapy pets, Ashenden benefits from Bella’s presence in several different ways:

  • She forces him to remain active even when his depression flares up. Bella needs to be walked two to three times a day. “No matter what’s going on with me, that’s something that requires I get out of the house — these activities help me remain engaged.”
  • She keeps him from feeling socially withdrawn. People approach Ashenden because they want to meet Bella, he says. “Sometimes going out of your comfort zone can be difficult — Bella helps break that ice for me.”
  • She provides him with constant companionship. “I’m never alone,” he explains. “One of the symptoms of depression is that people isolate and tend to withdraw.”

Ashenden’s experience with Bella isn’t unique. Researchers have found that interaction with pets — even if they don’t belong to you — can reduce anxiety, ease blood pressure and heart rate, and offset feelings of depression. One example showed that exposure to an aviary filled with songbirds lowered depression in elderly men at a veterans’ hospital; another example noted the improved moods of depressed college students after they interacted with a therapy dog.

However, it seems that direct contact with an animal is necessary to achieve psychological benefit. People who were shown photographs of cuddly pets as part of a study did not experience the same decrease in symptoms of depression as people who actually were able to play with and touch animals.

Finding Therapy Animals

Groups like the American Humane Association and the Delta Society offer animal-assisted therapy programs for people with depression and other mood disorders. You may also be able to find a local group in your area that offers pet therapy. People living in the Denver area, for instance, benefit from a pet therapy organization called Denver Pet Partners.

When looking for pet therapy groups, be sure to find out how much training their therapy pets and animal handlers undergo. The American Humane Association emphasizes that the good that can come from pet therapy can be undone if the pets are not gentle and well-trained.

And of course, there’s always the option of adopting a pet from your local animal shelter. If you feel capable of giving a dog or cat a good home, the relationship could benefit you as well.

Using Therapy Pets For Depression Relief: MI Depression Counseling

Having a pet can reduce your stress, improve your confidence, boost your happiness, and even extend your life! This is something we recommend for many of our depression counseling patients in Michigan because of the countless benefits that come with pet ownership. This isn’t the ideal choice for everyone though, so it’s important to consider all your options before choosing a therapy pet.

Here are some tips to set you up for success with your depression therapy pet.

Which Pet Is Right For Your Depression Symptoms?

You can choose just about any pet you want to have in your life. Most people think about dogs for depression relief, but you can get just as much comfort from cats, fish, reptiles, or any other pet you like. Dogs are incredibly empathetic. They feed off emotions, and they can tell when you need them most. You may not get that same empathy from a lizard or a beta, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find peace from having them in your home.

When you think about different animals, which one makes you feel the happiest right away? Do you get a burst of joy when you see a dog on a walk? Do you feel your heart flutter when you see a cat perched in a window? Do you feel calm when you watch fish swim by in a tank? Only you can determine which pet will work best for your depression symptoms, but these gut feelings will give you a good place to start.

Consider Your Allergies, If Any

If you have pet allergies, you need to take those into consideration when selecting a pet for your depression therapy. Your depression may get worse if your pet causes you to constantly cough, sneeze and feel miserable. Of course, there are ways to get around this. You could take allergy medication, or you could get a breed of cat/dog that is hypoallergenic. Just keep those accommodations in mind before you adopt a pet you may not be able to keep.

Consider The Cost Of Care

Every pet comes at a price, not just for the pet itself, but also for the day-to-day care. If your depression is partly the result of financial stress, you may not want a pet that is going to be expensive to keep up with. Some costs to keep in mind include:

  • Monthly pet food (the bigger the pet, the more food you will have to buy)
  • Cleaning expenses (litter box, water changes for fish, bedding for rodents, etc.)
  • Cage, harness, and travel carriers
  • Medical expenses (shots, spay/neuter, common health problems for the breed you choose)
  • Housing accommodations (dog house, bedding, tank, etc.)
  • Pet deposits if you rent your home

These costs may not seem like much on their own, but they can add up quickly. You may also need to get pet insurance to cover emergency medical expenses, or you may need special food later on if your pet experiences health problems. Make sure you select a depression therapy pet that suits your emotional needs as well as your financial abilities.

How Old Should A Therapy Pet Be?

You might be inclined to get a puppy or kitten when you first look for pets because they are small and cute, but think abut how much training that will require. The training period gives you a chance to bond with your pet, but it can also be incredibly stressful. This is especially true for dogs because you have to teach them how to go outside to use the restroom. This takes months of repeated efforts, and it requires a lot of extra cleaning on your end. If this is a commitment you don’t mind making, go for it! It’s not the best option for everyone though.

Getting A Therapy Pet Through A Rescue Center

Many local pet rescues in Michigan have programs for therapy pets. They train these pets for specific situations, like helping people with PTSD or assisting people while in mourning. With a rescue pet, you also get a clean bill of health, all age-appropriate shots, spay/neuter, and a microchip to ensure that your pet can be identified if he or she is ever lost. This is one of the best ways to get a pet for depression therapy because the costs are minimal and the benefits are endless.

Talk to your depression therapist in Michigan about which therapy pets will work best for you.

By The Recovery Village Editor Megan Hull Reviewer Dr. Sarah Dash Updated on09/13/19

Having animals in our day-to-day life has been shown to result in many benefits, from lowering blood pressure to increasing social connectedness. However, emotional support animals may be particularly beneficial for people who are struggling with depression.

While service dogs assist with disabilities, such as mobility or visual impairments, emotional support animals help with emotional distress and offer stability for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Many different animals have been trialed as emotional support animals, including farm animals and companion animals, like dogs and cats. The therapeutic use of animals for people with mental disorders is referred to as animal-assisted interventions and is guided by a therapist with expertise in this area.

The most common emotional support animals for depression are dogs and cats. Emotional support animals can be used in several different environments, including schools, airports, college campuses and at home. The presence of emotional support animals can alleviate negative feelings in the short term and boost long-term mood and functioning in people with mood disorders. Given the prevalence of depression in the U.S. and internationally, emotional support animals may offer a relatively low-cost strategy for improving symptoms of depression.

How Emotional Support Animals Help with Depression

The benefits of an emotional support animal for depression impact physiological, emotional and psychological well-being. In general, emotional support animals can help with depression by offering reassurance and companionship to people experiencing low mood or clinical depression. More specifically:

  • Emotional support animals can improve some of the physical markers of depression, mainly by reducing high states of anxiety and arousal common in depression
  • Emotional support animals can support emotional functioning by helping people establish social interactions and connections
  • Animals can act as a buffer in social situations that might feel uncomfortable for people with depression, and they can encourage daily interaction and growth of social networks, which can protect against low mood
  • Caring for emotional support animals can build self-efficacy, or the belief that a person can control a given outcome, which can improve depression

Interestingly, emotional support animals may be particularly helpful for single people and women, as women have been found to have more positive attitudes and behaviors toward animals. However, benefits of emotional support animals have been found in people of all life situations, genders and ages.

Getting an Emotional Support Animal for Depression

Interest in having animals certified as emotional support animals has grown significantly, with significant increases in the number of animals registered over the past two decades. While some people may be interested in seeking animal-assisted interventions with trained animals, others may wish to have their pets certified as emotional support animals. The definitions and criteria for emotional support animals can vary by location, and there are different rules by jurisdiction. Dogs are the most commonly used emotional support animal and are most likely to be accepted as a form of emotional support.

In the U.S., under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), people who meet certain criteria are entitled to have an emotional support dog with them in their daily life. These individuals are permitted to:

  • Have the dog live with them, despite any no-pet policies
  • Bring dogs in the cabin of airplanes at no additional cost to assist with flying anxiety
  • Bring their support dog to businesses or places of work

Importantly, a medical certificate or letter stating professional recommendation for an emotional support animal for mental or emotional support is required. Dogs should be clearly identified as emotional support animals by wearing a collar or vest. Emotional support dogs must also meet behavioral requirements and be well-socialized to people and other animals.

Best Dogs Breeds for Depression

The best emotional support dogs for depression are also commonly used as service dogs for physical disabilities. Labrador and golden retriever breeds are among the most common emotional support animals, given their social and playful nature. Other breeds, such as German shepherds or smaller dogs like chihuahuas are also frequently registered as emotional support animals.

Ultimately, the best breed of emotional support dog for depression depends largely on an individual’s personality and preferences. Other people may prefer to visit a farm or clinic to access animal-assisted therapy, and these alternatives still offer many benefits for mental health.
Animal-assisted therapy can be useful in helping alleviate the symptoms of many mental health conditions, including addiction. If you or a loved one is interested in learning more about animal-assisted therapies offered at The Recovery Village for co-occurring addiction and depression, reach out to a representative today for more information.

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The Best Pets And Animals For Depression And Anxiety (Based On Research And Science)

Research shows that they do.

Spending time with an animal companion decreases stress indicators like cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure and inspires you to engage in mood-boosting activities like exercise, social engagement, and spontaneous play.

Researchers believe that the neurochemical oxytocin plays an important role in the effect animals have on mood. Oxytocin is released by eye contact and other interactions between people and animals who trust and care for one another. Research shows increased oxytocin results in higher levels of self-esteem and generosity and lower levels of depression.

It’s clear that getting a pet is a great idea if you’re depressed. But which are the best pets for depression?

Let’s find out!

Are Dogs Good for Depression?

Most of the research about how animals improve your mood focuses on dogs. Our long history with these deeply social creatures makes them not only our most beloved companion animals, but the best studied. In addition to increasing your levels of oxytocin, research shows that dogs improve mental health in humans in many other measurable ways.

In addition to being affectionate, dogs are active animals. Their exercise requirements will make you more likely to get out and play and go for walks. Exercise is one of the best ways to fight depression, making dogs doubly therapeutic for depressed owners.

If you’ve decided to get a dog, do your research first. It’s a major commitment to bring one home, and the positive effects of pet ownership can be minimized by the stressors of choosing the wrong pet. Understanding which breed is the best match for you is the key to success.

The Best Dog Breeds for People with Depression

Many breeds make good therapy dogs for depression. Which one is the best for you depends not only on your personality but on your life circumstances. For example, high-energy breeds like huskies and border collies are great for people who are able to meet their needs for exercise but may overwhelm people who can only manage a couple of walks a day. If you have allergies, choosing a hypoallergenic dog like a poodle or schnauzer is very important.

Dog breeds specifically known to be good for depression include:

  • Small low-to-medium energy dogs that are also good choices for apartment dwellers, like French bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Their adaptability and charming natures make them easy companions.
  • Pugs are frequently mentioned as good for depression due to their humorous personalities and the strong bonds they develop with their owners.
  • Other funny dogs that easily inspire smiles include corgis and Boston terriers.
  • Yorkshire terriers are another small breed known for their devotion—a Yorkie was even the first documented therapy dog!

When you’re depressed, it can be hard to connect. This is important to consider when you’re looking for an emotional support animal. Aloof dog breeds like Shiba Inus might make you feel rejected if you’re having an especially hard day. Choosing an affectionate breed can ensure that your pet will break through your emotional shell.

Golden and Labrador retrievers are devoted as well as demonstrative. They’re also noted to be some of the most gentle dog breeds, which is important to consider when dealing with the raw pain that often comes with depression.

The Benefits of Choosing a Rescue Dog

Keep in mind that breed isn’t the only consideration when choosing a dog. Rescue and shelter dogs offer many unique benefits. Knowing that you saved a dog from a hard or lonely life will immediately make you feel good. Taking home an adult dog is great when you don’t have the energy or patience for training—many rescue dogs are already housetrained! The incredible bond you form with a rescue dog will change how you feel about yourself and inspire new confidence. You might find your rescue dog inspires you to pursue new activities.

As with any dog, success depends on doing your research and making sure you don’t bring home an animal whose special needs are too much for you to take on. Despite the stereotype, most rescue dogs are well-adjusted. Rescue organizations go to great lengths to socialize dogs through foster placements and match dogs and people. Telling the rescue about your needs, personality, and level of experience with dogs will help them match you with the perfect companion.

The Best Dogs for People with Both Anxiety and Depression

Depression and anxiety often manifest together. Yet while they frequently are comorbid conditions, the presence of anxiety symptoms can dramatically change how your depression manifests. Anxiety can complicate the usual tendency to feel more emotionally numb or flat when you’re depressed and make it even easier to feel overwhelmed.

This means when you’re choosing a companion animal for anxiety, you should consider potential anxiety triggers. This can include how much a certain breed tends to bark and how energetic or domineering a dog is. You don’t want to get a dog that makes you feel overwhelmed in the one space that feels safe when you’re anxious and depressed.

Dogs with the best temperament for an anxious owner are calm, responsive, and easy to train. These breeds include poodles, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, schnauzers, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. You can get a specially trained service dog if you need an animal to help guide you through panic attacks or get one on your own if you just want a steady companion.

The Best Dog Breeds for PTSD and Trauma Recovery

People commonly experience depression as a comorbid condition with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma and depression share symptoms that can worsen when they co-occur. These include sleep problems and difficulties with concentration and other cognitive tasks. Trauma-related flashbacks can make it hard for people to navigate daily life, and it’s even harder when they come with the low mood and energy of depression.

This is why it can make a huge difference to take home an emotional support or service dog for PTSD. Service dogs that respond to and interrupt symptoms of anxiety and panic require special training and are obtained through service dog organizations. Breeds that are good service dogs for PTSD include poodles, Labrador and Golden retrievers, German shepherds, and collies.

If you don’t need a trained service animal, you can choose from a wider number of breeds for an emotional support animal. When choosing a support dog for PTSD, consider elements like trainability and excitability. Dog traits that are especially helpful for trauma survivors are calm, watchful, and protective. Good guard dogs known to help people feel safer include German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Staffordshire bull terriers.

Can a Cat Be a Therapy Animal?

While dogs hog the spotlight, cats are also excellent companion animals for people with depression. Scientific research has shown that there are as many benefits to owning a cat as there are to owning a dog. If you’re overwhelmed by the activities of daily life, which is not uncommon when you’re depressed, a cat’s relative independence and simpler care needs can make a feline the perfect match for you.

While cats can’t be trained as service animals, they are great therapy and emotional support animals. Intelligent and intuitive, cats are more engaged and responsive with people than they get credit for being. As with dogs, spending time with cats increases oxytocin and reduces stress.

The Healing Power of Purring

One unique benefit cats offer to depressed owners is the power of their purring. Cats make this characteristic sound by pushing air through their vocal chords. Cat lovers know this behavior is a sign of a calm and happy cat but it’s also something cats use to find one another, navigate their environments, and communicate their needs. Cat owners learn to recognize the different purrs cats make when they are asking for food or just relaxing.

Regardless of the reason for it, purring has been scientifically proven to have healing effects. Scientists observed cats who purred after experiencing stress or trauma and found that purring promotes bone growth and tissue regeneration. These effects appear to relate to the frequency of the vibrations produced by purring. For humans, purring has been shown not only to be calming but to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Does My Cat Know I’m Depressed?

Cats get a bad rap as being antisocial creatures. They’re mythologized as aloof and indifferent to human beings and their feelings. This simply isn’t true. Research shows that cats pick up on human emotion and respond to facial expressions and other emotional cues. Cats recognize your voice, understand and follow your gestures, and look to you for guidance in situations that are new or stressful for them.

Cats form strong bonds with people. Research shows that cats display more stress-related behavior when they are separated from their owners and that they are more playful, confident, and exploratory when they’re in the room with their owner. In other words, they like the people who adopt them and prefer them to others. They are intuitive and often know exactly when you need them to come up and snuggle next to you.

How Do I Choose the Right Cat?

As with dogs, there are different cat breeds with different personalities. Some of the cat breeds that make good emotional support animals include the popular and even-tempered American Shorthair, the loyal and trainable Siamese, and the intelligent and affectionate Ragdoll and Maine Coon breeds.

However, breed isn’t as straightforward with cats as it is with dogs. Individual cats can vary wildly in temperament, even when they’re from the same litter. This is why it’s important to spend time with different cats at the shelters, rescue organizations, or breeders you plan to get them from and to get to know an individual cat before taking it home.

There are several other factors to consider when you choose a cat. Do you want a cat with short or long hair? Would you be interested in having more than one if you meet a cat that’s strongly bonded with another one? What feline personality best suits you?

Perhaps the most important factor to consider is a cat’s energy level. Some cats have boundless energy and love to spend most of their time running, climbing, and exploring. Others are more laid back and enjoy spending most of their time lounging in the sun or in a person’s lap. The best way to tell is to spend time with a cat and to ask the people responsible for its adoption about its demeanor.

What Other Animals Are Good for Mental Health?

It’s not just dogs and that are good for depression. Animals in general are therapeutic. Any form of interaction with another being can counteract the isolating tendency of the illness and the routines of animal care can structure your day when you might otherwise feel lost.

The reason animals are good for depression is that interacting with them inspires positive feelings. For this reason, the most important factors to consider when choosing a therapy or general companion animal are what animals you’re able to care for where you currently live and which ones inspire devotion and excitement in you.

How Horses Help People Heal

Horses and humans share a special connection. Like cats and dogs, horses recognize human emotion and respond to it. Miniature horses are actually the only animal other than dogs recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a service animal.

In fact, horses’ sensitivity to human emotion has allowed people to develop an entire therapeutic discipline, equine-assisted therapy (EAT), that taps into it. People who engage in EAT learn from how a horse responds to them as they engage in simple tasks and contact with the horse. As people interact with the therapy horses, they learn to identify their feelings and process them, becoming more confident and trusting in the process.

Few people have the space or means to own their own horses, but there are many other ways to interact with these amazing animals. In addition to signing up for EAT, horseback riding lessons, or other horse-related activities, you can often volunteer at local organizations that help and care for horses in need. Even if all you’re doing is brushing or petting them, interacting with these powerful and intuitive animals will make you feel empowered, too.

The Mental Health Benefits of Small Pets

If you have pet restrictions where you live, significant allergies to dogs and cats, or other reasons that these pets won’t work for you, consider bringing home a small pet. Small mammals like ferrets, rats, and guinea pigs can be affectionate, intelligent, and curious, and interact with you in many ways that a dog or cat would. Rabbits are gentle and respond well to human touch, making them a good choice for a therapy animal.

Birds are another animal that can make a surprising but effective choice as an emotional support animal. Research shows that their brains are remarkably similar to human brains. They are highly social, show empathy, and grieve. Birds with complex songs and birds that can mimic the human voice like parrots and magpies enjoy interacting vocally with humans, which can be engaging and help you develop a strong bond with your bird. One family was able to heal after tragedy due to the relationship they developed with an adopted magpie.

Even animals that don’t form strong bonds with humans can make good therapy animals. Research has shown that caring for and watching fish lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and improves mood. Any animal that is interesting to watch and inspires you to focus on and interact with it will engage your brain in positive ways, meaning that even pet snakes and lizards can help you counteract depression. There is even a particular species of lizard, the tegu, that is known for being an affectionate and social pet!

The Power of the Wild

While wild animals aren’t pets, spending time around them can yield as many benefits as having a pet of your own. Research shows that spending time in natural environments has a significant positive impact on mental health, and this is only enhanced when you go somewhere that you can observe wildlife. The specific act of birdwatching, whether in your backyard or at a nature sanctuary, has also been shown to have mental health benefits.

Some animals hold a special magic for us. Wolves are one animals that deeply inspires many people. This has led to the development of a new form of animal-assisted therapy: wolf therapy. Animal sanctuaries like Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Los Angeles have developed programs that help veterans with PTSD heal through bonding with wolves.

Another wild animal that holds a special place in the human heart is the dolphin. These intelligent, graceful, and extremely social creatures often choose to interact with people when they encounter them in the wild. Research has shown that dolphin therapy, in which people swim and interact with dolphins, helps people feel less depressed.


Regardless of whether you adopt a pet, volunteer at a rescue organization, or put a bird feeder in your backyard, interacting with animals will give you an edge in your fight against depression. Animals remind us of what’s best in us and of simple truths that defy the logic of the depressed mind. Your life changes the day you bring home a pet, and you will probably forever remember your first day with your new pet as a turning point in your recovery.

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