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7 ways pets improve your mental health

Pets make excellent companions, they're also good for your mental health. However, if you are really struggling to look after yourself, then talk to your doctor before you take on caring for a pet.

1. Pets reduce stress

Many people feel stress. Research shows that just patting a pet can ease stress and reduce your blood pressure. Even watching fish swimming in an aquarium reduces stress. It can also help you relax and practice mindfulness.

2. Pets provide companionship

Pets can be affectionate, accepting, loyal, honest and consistent. If you feel isolated with little support, a pet can help reduce your loneliness.

3. Pets fulfill the human need to touch

Most people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Simply patting a pet can lower your heart rate.

4. Pets require routine and organisation

Most pets require a routine of feeding, cleaning and exercise. This can give you purpose and motivation which can help your self-esteem, wellbeing and mental health.

5. Pets provide a sense of purpose

A pet can provide you with a sense of purpose, which helps improve mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. If you have a pet, you are never alone and you are also responsible for looking after them.

6. Pets increase your social interaction

Pets create opportunities for better social interaction, especially if you join an animal club or attend pet shows. Going to pet-friendly events, beaches or parks can also help increase your social network. You could make new friends just by taking your dog for a walk or waiting at the vet, due to the shared interest in your pets.

7. Pets improve your fitness (dog owners)

If you own a dog, they need regular walks, and this exercise is good for you too. Exercise, like walking, has many benefits for your mental health and wellbeing. You can also use the time walking your dog to improve your fitness and make the most of the outdoors to help you further develop mindfulness and relaxation.

If you have a fear of social situations, or social phobia, a pet can help with slowly introducing you to other people who also have pets and enhance your mental health.

Last reviewed: November 2015

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