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Pawsitive Effects: How Pets Improve Mental Health and Well-being

Throughout history, animals have provided humans with comfort and companionship. Domestication, the process of taming an animal and keeping it as a pet or on a farm, has been a part of human civilization for thousands of years. From Ancient Egyptian art featuring cats to prehistoric paintings depicting dogs, humans have had a close relationship with animals since the dawn of civilization. While in the past, animals were primarily used for practical purposes such as hunting or farming, today, more and more people are adopting pets for the sole purpose of companionship. According to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey, about 70 percent of United States households have a companion animal. The effect that pets have on people, including children, adults, and the elderly, can be significant and varied.

Pet ownership can have a profound impact on a child's life, providing them with numerous benefits and opportunities for personal growth. Research has consistently shown that children who have pets are more likely to develop a sense of responsibility, empathy, and patience, among other valuable life skills. One notable study by Fisher (2020) examined the effects of pet ownership on child development and found that owning a pet compared to not owning one was associated with a decreased likelihood of exhibiting “abnormal emotional symptoms, experiencing peer problems, and displaying low levels of prosocial behavior.” This suggests that the presence of a furry friend can have a positive impact on a child's social and emotional well-being, helping them to better regulate their emotions, interact more effectively with others, and develop empathy. Moreover, owning a pet can be an excellent way for children to learn about the natural world and develop a deeper appreciation for the animals around them. From observing their pet's behavior to learning about their dietary needs and grooming habits, pet ownership provides a wealth of opportunities for hands-on learning and exploration.

Pets have been found to provide numerous health benefits for their owners, both physical and mental. Studies have shown that owning a pet can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety levels, and even decrease the risk of heart disease (Barker & Dawson, 1998). In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, owning a pet was associated with better mental health outcomes among individuals with mood disorders (Brooks et al., 2018). This suggests that pets can be a valuable source of emotional support for those struggling with mental health issues.

Furthermore, pets have also been found to provide benefits for people during the COVID-19 lockdown. A study done in Singapore found that people who had pets scored higher on “emotional well-being, energy and social functioning” than people who did not have pets (Quan Tan, 2021). During the time of isolation and lack of social interaction, people that had pets were associated with better physical activity and mental well-being.

Pets can be great companions for older adults, especially those who may be facing social isolation. Studies have shown that owning a pet can have numerous benefits for older adults, including improved mental health and social connections. As people age, they may experience a variety of life changes, such as retirement, the loss of a spouse or friends, or a decline in physical health. These changes can often lead to social isolation, which can have a negative impact on mental health. Isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, all of which can be detrimental to overall well-being. Pets can help combat these negative feelings by providing companionship and social interaction. To elaborate, they can also provide a sense of purpose and routine, as caring for a pet requires regular feeding, exercise, and grooming. This can help older adults maintain a sense of structure and routine in their daily lives, which can be especially important for those who may be living alone. A study was done with adults 65 years and older concluded that having a pet gives “a sense of purpose and meaning, reducing loneliness and increasing socialisation” (Zhe Hui Gan, 2019).

Animals, across the spectrum, have been shown to have positive impacts on humans. All animals, even those that are not dogs, cats, or even reptiles have been shown to help people’s well-being. For example, Equine-Therapy or more commonly known as horse therapy, has had a positive effect on humans for decades. In a recent study it says “Being with horses can bring participants into the present moment and induce a feeling of calmness and well-being” (Burgon, 2014). Other animals are also good such as rabbits, mice , birds, and other domesticated animals as shown by the rise of emotional support animals. Emotional support animals have shown to “offer considerable psychological, social, and physiological benefits to persons with mental or emotional disabilities” (Butwin, 2019). Governments have observed the effects of these animals and have created laws to allow emotional support animals to have some freedom so that humans can have them in restaurants, offices, planes, and more.

As much as pets are shown to help people, having one is a big responsibility and is not to be taken lightly. Since a lot of domesticated animals are neglected and mishandled, researching and seeing if you are compatible with your potential pet before getting it is a must. Pets are not a quick fix to have good mental health and should not be used in such a way. Having respect for your animal companion is important, so one should have the time and effort it takes to have a pet in your home.

Overall, pets have shown to help various populations in different ways and have done a lot to help the mental well-being of individuals. From helping children to older adults, animals have had a profound effect on people since the very beginning of domestication. More and more studies are now showing the different effects animals have had in time and in different cultures.


Olsen, Pedersen, I., Bergland, A., Enders-Slegers, M.-J., Patil, G., & Ihlebæk, C. (2016). Effect of animal-assisted interventions on depression, agitation and quality of life in nursing home residents suffering from cognitive impairment or dementia: a cluster randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 31(12), 1312–1321.

McConnell, Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011). Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1239–1252.

Robinson. (1995). The Waltham book of human-animal interaction : benefits of pet ownership (Robinson, Ed.; First edition.). Pergamon.

Barker, S. B., & Dawson, K. S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 49(6), 797–801.

Tan, J. S. Q., Fung, W., Tan, B. S. W., Low, J. Y., Syn, N. L., Goh, Y. X., & Pang, J. (2021). Association between pet ownership and physical activity and mental health during the COVID-19 "circuit breaker" in Singapore. One health (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 13, 100343.

Brooks, H.L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K. et al. The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry 18, 31 (2018).

Fisher. (2020). Should families acquire pets to promote child development? The Journal of Pediatrics, 220, 1–3.

Hui Gan, G. Z., Hill, A. M., Yeung, P., Keesing, S., & Netto, J. A. (2020). Pet ownership and its influence on mental health in older adults. Aging & mental health, 24(10), 1605–1612.

Burgon. (2014). Equine-Assisted Therapy and Learning with At-Risk Young People (1st ed. 2014.). Palgrave Macmillan UK.


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