How You and Your Four Legged Friend Can Help Each Other Manage Stress
May is Mental Health Awareness Month (for humans), and a consistent recommendation from mental health experts is that people with mental health issues can benefit from spending more time with animals.
What’s behind this recommendation and how does it help people improve their mental health? And what should you do if your pet is the one experiencing stress and anxiety, not you? Let’s dive in.
How Do Pets Help People Reduce Stress?
For centuries, humans and animals have shared a special bond. This relationship has evolved to the point that our pets are now considered one of the family, sharing our living spaces and sometimes even our beds. Ongoing scientific research focuses on exploring this human-animal bond.
We instinctively know that spending time with our fur babies helps us feel good. The experience of unconditional love is hard to beat. But it’s more than an animal-lover’s hunch—there is compelling science behind the mental health benefits of being a pet owner.
Some of the ways pets help humans improve our mental health include:
- Increased companionship. When you have a pet, you’re never really alone. Pets can also help us connect with other humans, like when we meet neighbors while walking the dog.
- Regular routines. Pets have daily needs for feeding, exercise and grooming, which creates predictability for pet owners. Having a routine provides a feeling of control and power in our lives, which boosts mental health.
- Stress busters. Spending time with pets has been shown to lower cortisol, a stress hormone. This can lessen feelings of anxiety and stress in people.
- Oxytocin release. Research shows this happy-making hormone is released when you make eye contact with your dog, giving you a mood boost right away.
- Improved Self-Esteem. It’s easier to feel better about ourselves when a pet gives us unconditional love and attention.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, the non-profit Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) shared some exciting new peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the mental health benefits of the human-animal bond. These new developments include:
- Service dogs can help alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in veterans.
- Pets provide a powerful distraction from the stress of mental health problems.
- Therapy dogs help college students reduce stress.
What Types of Stress Do Cats and Dogs Experience?
Now that we know there is scientific evidence that animals help humans manage our stress and anxiety levels, what about pets’ emotions? How can we help our furry friends cope with their own stressors and anxiety, including:
- Separation anxiety
- Thunderstorm phobias
- Fear of strangers
- Age-related anxiety, often related to cognitive dysfunction syndrome
- General anxiety disorders
Common anxiety symptoms in dogs include whining, excessive barking, panting, drooling, pacing, hiding or following the owner around. Even housebroken dogs may urinate or defecate inside if they feel overly anxious or upset.
Cats who experience fear or anxiety may raise their fur and hiss. Cats are more likely to retreat, hiding under furniture or in a small space like a closet away from humans. Other signs can include decreased appetite, restlessness, vocalization, excessive grooming and trembling.
How To Help Cats and Dogs With Anxiety
If your cat or dog is showing symptoms of anxiety, the best place to start is a conversation with your veterinarian. Your vet can help determine what is causing your pet’s stress, and rule out underlying medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
Behavioral and pharmaceutical treatments for pet anxiety like SSRIs and antidepressants may be an option, although like any medication, these can have unwanted side effects.
Natural treatments for pets are a good alternative for pet owners who want to minimize pharmaceuticals. Pet supplements containing L-theanine, an amino acid, are a great choice. Homeopathic medicines are effective natural remedies made from homeopathic ingredients without side effects.
PetCalm™ is a homeopathic medicine to support nervous and highly strung pets. It immediately calms anxious and stressed animals.
Another popular anti-anxiety solution for pets is Scare-D-Pet™ for fearful pets. Scare-D-Pet™ comes in an easy-to-use dropper bottle that pets don’t seem to mind. The all-natural formula promotes calm and relaxation in cats and dogs, and produces a gentle sedative-life effect.
CBD or hemp extract is an effective natural option for stress relief in pets, as well.
See more favorites here.
There’s no question that humans and pets have evolved to develop a special bond. In today’s world, there are plenty of stressors that can impact both human mental health and pets’ emotional wellbeing. Thankfully, the science is clear—we can help our pets, and they can help us. After all, that’s what friends are for!
10 Signs Your Dog is Stressed https://petalive.blog/2020/10/01/10-signs-your-dog-is-stressed/
CBD for Pets https://petalive.blog/2019/02/01/cbd-for-pets/
Seasonal Stress and Your Pet https://petalive.blog/2018/12/03/seasonal-stress-and-your-pet/
- Claussen, K. “How Pets Affect Mental Health.” Fetch by WebMD. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://pets.webmd.com/how-pets-affect-mental-health
- Feldman, S. “How Science Supports Pets For Improving Your Mental Health.” MHA Mental Health America. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.mhanational.org/blog/how-science-supports-pets-improving-your-mental-health
- “21 Ways Pets Can Help With Depression and Anxiety.” Dr. Roseann. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://drroseann.com/21-ways-pets-can-help-with-depression-and-anxiety/
- Kriss, R. “Understanding, Preventing and Treating Dog Anxiety.” AKC American Kennel Club. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-dog-anxiety/
- Sirois, K. “The Ultimate Guide to Cat Anxiety.” PetMD. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/behavioral/c_ct_fear_phobia_anxiety