A Anna Ryan

How Owning Pets Can Improve Your Mental Health

Feb 23, 2024

There’s a reason why we humans have always sought out companionship from our furry (or even feathery) friends. The bond between humans and animals has spanned centuries, and it’s not hard to see why. They bring endless amounts of joy, safety, and comfort to our lives – all things that can help improve our mental well-being.

Here’s a look into just some of the things our pets can do for us.

They Help to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

 Cat being fussed on lap

Did you know that interacting with our pets has been shown to lower cortisol levels? Cortisol is a stress-related hormone that can lead to all sorts of nasty side effects, such as high blood pressure, inflammation, anxiety, and more. Spending time with our pets can actually help calm our racing minds and hearts, soothing stress and anxiety. It can give us a healthy dose of serotonin, which, if you didn’t know, is a chemical associated with happiness.

So, if you own a cat, dog, or even a bunny rabbit, and you’ve had a stressful day at work, take some time to pet them, and you should start to feel better.

They Can Improve Our Social Lives

Dog walkers

No, really – even the most reclusive pets can improve our social lives!

Dog owners will reap the rewards of this benefit in particular. They’re likely to stop and chat with other dog owners during walks or in parks. Even if it’s a long chat about your day-to-day lives or a brief good morning, these interactions can help reduce feelings of loneliness. Dogs can serve as an ice-breaker for people who struggle with shyness or social anxiety, helping them form new (and sometimes even lasting) friendships.

But it’s not all about pups! Owning pets can already give you a talking point. Whether it’s telling funny anecdotes about your cat or letting your friends know about all the tricks your parrot learned, the truth is pet owners love gushing about their pets – and other pet owners love hearing about it!

They Keep You Active

Dog chasing ball

Caring for a pet, especially a dog, encourages owners to lead a more active lifestyle. Dogs need regular exercise and exposure to sunshine, which means you’ll likely take them for walkies at least twice a day. This physical activity can do wonders for your mental health, helping you keep active on days you might not feel like it, encouraging you to get some much-needed fresh air, and soak up the healing rays of the sun. Physical activity releases endorphins – otherwise known as those feel-good hormones that can improve your mood and even reduce feelings of depression in some cases.

They Give You a Routine

Cat being fed

A sense of routine can be extremely important for our mental health and beating feelings of depression. Caring for a pet automatically creates a routine that’s centered all around them. They need feeding, grooming, walking, and more, and they’ll encourage you to stick to your routine themselves. Anyone who owns a cat or a dog will know how demanding they can get if you forget to feed them in the morning or if you’re a little bit later than usual!

This sense of routine can be super beneficial for those who struggle with depression, as it can motivate people on days when that might feel impossible.

They Offer Emotional Support

Paw and hand

Any pet owner will understand the unconditional love and emotional support their furry friend offers. Pets are emotionally intelligent beings (sometimes even more so than humans) and can sense when pet owners aren’t feeling like themselves.

Everyone goes through tough times at different points in their lives, but pets can provide a huge source of comfort and safety, helping to reduce feelings of isolation.

Did you know that pets may also lower your risk of dementia? Read all about it here.

They Can Improve Your Self-Esteem

Caring for a pet can lead to huge improvements in self-esteem and self-confidence. Caregiving, receiving affection, and successfully meeting an animal's needs can actually improve their owner's sense of self-worth.

Additionally, we mentioned before that pets can improve your social circle. This can further boost an individual's self-esteem.

They Can Help with Mental Health Disorders

Service dog

Research indicates that pets can provide therapeutic benefits for individuals with specific mental health disorders, such as PTSD, autism, and ADHD. The presence of an animal can provide calming effects, help in managing emotions, and can also offer distractions from symptoms associated with these conditions. There are usually criteria to be met to qualify, and symptoms often have to be debilitating, but service dogs can be life-changing for people who need them.

In fact, just like how guide dogs are trained to help blind people, there are specially trained dogs for all the disorders mentioned above.

Service Dogs and Autism

Research has shown that there are a whole of benefits that come with autism service dogs, including “enhanced safety of the autistic child, the dog’s role as a social catalyst, improved emotional well-being, and enhanced self-regulation.”

Furthermore, Animal Assisted Therapies can offer opportunities for autistic people to practice their communication, grow in confidence, and improve focus. In addition, service dogs for autism can also improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and help autistic people cope with change.

Good breeds for autism service dogs include Saint Bernards and German Shepherds.

Service Dogs and ADHD

Service dogs trained for ADHD can help keep their owner’s attention on track, stop or reduce meltdowns, apply physical pressure to reduce anxiety, retrieve medication, and more. A randomized study actually found that when they interacted with dogs, children with ADHD became more attentive and improved their self-esteem.

Popular breeds for ADHD service dogs include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Poodles.

Pets and Mental Health: Frequently Asked Questions

German Shepard sitting in the grass

Can your mental health affect your pets?

Domesticated animals, like dogs and cats, are highly sensitive to their owners' emotions and moods. Studies have shown that pets can pick up on stress, anxiety, and other emotional disturbances in us humans.

Can pets sense depression?

As mentioned above, pets (especially dogs and cats) can sense changes in their owners' emotional states, and this includes depression. They may not understand the concept of depression as humans do, but they can detect cues in body language, tone of voice, and changes in routine or behavior.

It’s this sensitivity that allows them to respond to their owners' emotions and offer comfort. This might manifest in terms of affectionate behaviors (such as nudging, pawing, purring) or simply by sitting close by to let you know they’re there.

There are many different accounts and stories of pets who have shown more attentiveness and care towards owners who are experiencing depression or other mental health issues.

What pet is best for mental health?

The best pet for mental health is subjective and depends on your lifestyle, habits, and needs. However, some pets are better known for their therapeutic effects and ability to provide emotional support.


Dogs are unwaveringly loyal, providing unconditional love and companionship to their owners. Since they need so much regular exercise, this can help their owners maintain a routine and stay physically active, both of which have huge benefits for mental health – especially when it comes to depressive spirals. Dogs can also be trained to deal with lots of different mental health situations, from fetching medication to providing physical pressure when needed.


Cats offer comfort and affection to owners in need. A cat’s purr alone can actually improve mental health. This is because cats purr within a range of 20-140 Hz, which is known to be medically therapeutic. Furthermore, research has shown that the vibrations of a cat's purr can decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and even help healing.

They are particularly suitable for people who want a less demanding animal companion.

Two birds perched on hand


Birds may be a surprising addition to this list, but there are many ways they can act as companion animals and improve the mental health of their owners. Birds can provide social interaction and entertainment through songs and clever tricks.

They need a lot of care, attention, and routine, which can help those suffering from poor mental health focus on the present.

Other Small Pets

Small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, or hamsters are also good options to help improve mental health. They are generally lower maintenance than dogs, cats, and birds but can still provide companionship and joy to whoever takes on the task of caring for them.

Choosing the Best Pet For Your Mental Health

The best pet for your own mental health is one whose needs align with your own needs and lifestyle. It’s important to find a furry companion that can fit seamlessly into your daily routine without adding extra stress.

Think about the following:

  • Lifestyle - Consider how much time you have available for a pet. For example, dogs will need daily walks, playtime, and constant attention. On the other hand, cats are more independent, which makes them a good fit for those with busier lifestyles or small living spaces.
  • Care - Every pet has its own set of needs when it comes to care. Small animals (like hamsters or fish) might meet your own needs with less demanding care requirements.
  • Emotional connection – Different pets offer different types of emotional connections. For example, dogs are known for their unconditional love and loyalty, while cats can offer a more reserved but comforting presence. However, keep in mind that this may depend on the individual pet and their personality.
  • Physical Activity – If you're looking for a reason to be more active, a dog might be the best choice for you.



Owning a pet, whether that’s a dog, cat, bird, hamster, or another type of animal, can do wonders for our mental health. From reducing stress levels and boosting our mood to improving symptoms of depression and helping us form new friends, the result is clear: pets have an unmistakable impact on our well-being and quality of life.


Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions

Service dogs for autistic children and family system functioning

Canine-Assisted Therapy for Children With ADHD

Dogs can discriminate between human baseline and psychological stress condition odours

The Therapeutic Benefits of a Cat’s Purr