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The Psychological Benefits of Owning a Pet


A new study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry found that pets reduce stress and improve mental health. The results were so compelling that the researchers concluded it’s time to regard pets as a major source of help in the long-term management of mental health problems.

While the therapeutic function of pets in this area is being increasingly recognized, no systematic review of the evidence had been conducted. Therefore, a team of scientists at British universities in Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool examined 17 international research papers involving 1,727 participants with mental illness who owned pets. The objective was to measure the positives, negatives and neutrals of pet ownership.

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The cons were overshadowed by the pros. Negatives included the practical aspects of pet care, as well as the sadness that comes from losing a pet. However, the mental health benefits were manifold. Without exception, each paper discovered an intense relationship exists between pets and their owners; all the owners said their pets helped them emotionally cope with everyday life, particularly in times of crisis. The pets reportedly provided comfort, alleviated worry, relieved loneliness and improved feelings of self-worth. They even distracted owners from the symptoms associated with their mental health conditions.

Some owners said their pets fostered connectivity with the outside world and forced them to engage in physical activity. Others noted their pets encouraged social interactions and enhanced ties with the community.

A large study that interviewed people with conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, found pets conferred feelings of stability and continuity. Another study encouraged parents to get their children pets because they reduced anxiety.

Excerpts from Pet Owners

Pets provide a safe environment for communicating, where owners can express their feelings without fear of being judged. To illustrate this advantage, the researchers provided excerpts from past interviews such as these below:

  • “They don’t have input, ‘this is what you should do, or maybe you should try this’ or all the other commentary I get from people, who are trying to be helpful in their own right…their dying devotion and love, it’s true friendship.”
  • “My best quality is that I love animals and I take care of animals. Other than that, I can’t think of anything real outstanding.”
  • “When he comes and sits up beside you on a night, it’s different, you know. It’s just, like, he needs me as much as I need him, sort of thing.”

If you’d like a little canine or feline company but wonder if you’re able to provide the long-term care and commitment involved, options to pet ownership are available. You could become a dog sitter when an owner is on vacation by registering at DogVacay. Other choices include fostering a shelter dog or a military working dog. An additional option is the website Borrow My Doggy, where you may arrange to have walks, sleepovers or play dates with dogs.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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