But how much impact does owning a pet cat or dog actually have on our mental health?
Many cats and dogs (and even other animals like birds) are trained as specialist support animals.
There are service dogs, like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, as well as emotional support and therapy animals. Emotional support animals may help someone suffering from something like PTSD or panic attacks feel more safe and secure.
Therapy animals are often used in places like care homes, hospices or even schools and universities during exam periods to make people feel more calm and happy.
The importance of structure
Owning a pet, particularly a dog, adds structure to your day. Your dog needs exercise, they need water, they need attention, and they get up at a certain time. These are all things that humans need too, but we don’t always actually give them to ourselves. With a dog around demanding that you get up in the morning and go outside once a day, you naturally slot into their routine and end up doing all of these things too – things that are good for you!
Exercise for two
Speaking of walkies… we all know that exercise is good for our mental health, but actually getting out there and doing it is much harder.
Having a furry friend that needs to go out every day means that your exercise for the week is already planned, so you don’t even need to think about it.
Walking the same route every day means you might meet some other dog walkers, whilst walking different routes creates new connections in the brain.
Not only is all of that exercise good for your head, but also for your heart. Plus, petting a dog has been proven to lower your blood pressure.
Caring for something
Caring for yourself, especially when you’re feeling low, can be really hard. But caring for something else – like a cat, or a dog – can bring you out of your own head and make you focus on something else.
The growth and progress you can see with a pet, by training a dog, or seeing a cat become friendlier towards you, can also be beneficial. Goals and milestones are good for our sense of self, and our mental health. This sense of purpose is incredibly important to our mental wellbeing.
And most importantly… cuddles
Perhaps this is the most important aspect of all. Having a warm, fluffy pet that loves you unconditionally and that wants a cuddle just as much as you do is a great way to boost your mood. You even release endorphins while you’re cuddling them!
Pets can provide companionship when we’re lonely, and help us to meet other pet owners too. They can boost our confidence, and be our greatest confidants.