How spending time with animals can improve your mental health

Many of us enjoy spending time with our pets – but did you know that this can actually improve our mental health? If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, spending time with an animal may be one way to improve your overall mood, feel calmer and more refreshed. In this article, we’ll look at how spending time with a furry friend can have an impact on our overall health and wellbeing.

Animals make us happy and feel better about ourselves and our situation. They also boost our mood and decrease feelings of sadness or loneliness. In fact, in a 2014 study by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation, it was found that 75% of physicians said they saw one or more of their patients’ overall health improve after they got a pet.

So, how can having a pet or spending time with animals help improve your mental health? There are several ways.

They provide a sense of purpose

Caring for a pet is a full-time responsibility. Animals in our care need us to look after them, which provides us with a sense of purpose and make us feel needed and loved, which in turn, improves our mood and reduces the likelihood of developing issues with mental health. It can also help to boost our self-esteem and confidence.

They keep us active

Animals, especially dogs, keep us active. They need exercise every day, and that means they need a human to go with them. If you’re a dog owner, you’ll likely need to get out of the house  to go for a walk, come rain or shine. A study of Japanese adults found that dog owners had higher physical activity levels than those without any pets. They were also 1.5 times more likely to meet physical activity recommendation guidelines.

The added activity is positive for both our mental and physical health. Getting regular exercise helps reduce anxiety levels, improves our sleep, and can even treat mild to moderate depression. When we exercise, our body produces endorphins that help improve our mood and boost energy levels, leaving us feeling happier and more positive.

They help with maintaining a schedule

Pets need to be walked, fed and cared for, and they do best on a schedule. Whether it’s raining or snowing, whether we’re feeling down or stressed out, we still need to get up, feed them, give them some exercise, and care for them. When you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, having a regular routine and an animal that counts on you can help keep you motivated and your mind off of other issues that may be causing stress.

They invoke positive feelings

It’s no secret that people form emotional connections with their pets. The act of caring for another living thing helps us feel needed. This can help reduce feelings of loneliness or depression. Plus, animals reward us with unconditional love. They are there for us every day no matter what, and this bond is good for our emotional state. Coming home after a long day and getting to spend time with an animal that loves you can be very rewarding.

They help build human connections

Having a pet can also help you build emotional connections with humans. For instance, if you’re walking your dog to the park, there’s a good chance you’ll meet other pet owners and start up a conversation. These connections  are important for mental health.

Pets help reduce stress

You don’t need to live with a pet to experience many of the mental health benefits of spending time with animals. A 2009 study from Washington State University found that just 10 minutes of interacting with cats and dogs produced a significant reduction in students’ cortisol, which is a major stress hormone. Playing with dogs and cats can also raise your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can help you stay calm and relax.


If you feel ready to get a pet, do your research to make sure you invite the right animal into your home! If you’re not ready to adopt a pet yet, you can spend time with friends or family who have pets, visit a park and socialize with other pets and their owners, or even go to a zoo just to be near animals. By taking these steps, you may find your stress levels lowering, your anxiety easing, and your outlook on life improving.

For more on improving your health and wellbeing, check out our article on the health benefits of human connection!