How Pets Can Significantly Improve Your Mental Health

We all know how lockdown has affected people’s mental health this year and pets may have played a key role in our wellbeing. Pets could indeed be lifesavers through a period of social loneliness, but not only then. In so many ways, they can help us live mentally healthier lives! The healing power of the human-animal bond is real.

My story

I was only 22 and still a student when I adopted Miko (the tabby cat in the picture below). I was in the middle of a crisis in my life: I was just back from Australia (I lived 6 months in Brisbane), feeling nostalgic about my experience over there and started to question some of my life choices: Was I studying at the right school? What exactly did I want to do with my life? Where did I see myself in the upcoming years? I didn’t have the answer and I felt lost. Suddenly, the opportunity presented itself to adopt a cat, a friend of a friend didn’t know what to do with their new litter of kittens. We had cats in my family when I was younger so I felt educated enough on the matter, I didn’t hesitate and decided to adopt one of them.

miko and luna in their cat tree

It gave me stability

Another living being was now depending on me and I had no choice but to be responsible and take ownership of my life decisions. Since then, Miko has been the stability I didn’t have with my nomad life: I’ve moved 9 times in France and England within the last 13 years. Cats are creatures of habit and don’t usually enjoy changing their territory so regularly, but he has never seemed too bothered. Or maybe he knew it was my style. He’s the one who picked me after all, not the other way around, and that makes a huge difference.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Two is better than one

Now that he’s a senior cat (13 cat years is equivalent to 68 human years!), I thought it would be nice to give him a feline friend… A human’s company doesn’t always compensate the special bond they develop with each other. If you think cats are solitary animals who enjoy spending time alone, you couldn’t be more wrong.

I had to separate him from his sister when I adopted him, because I couldn’t afford both of them at the time. She was all black, that’s why I started to look for a similar cat online and found our second cat Luna. Sometimes I wonder if he knows exactly why I picked her. These two are so happy together now, it fills our hearts with joy every time we look at them. Of course they also fight sometimes (like siblings would do) but I know it was meant to be. Do you also believe everything happens for a reason?

miko and luna on the sofa

How pets help you make healthy lifestyle changes

Among all the things I can think of, they:

  • encourage you to exercise and help you lose weight (in case of dogs)
  • encourage playfulness and laughter
  • can make you socialise with other animal lovers (I strongly believe someone who loves animals can’t be a bad person)
  • give you a healthy routine (I have to wake up every day at the same time to feed my cats – no matter what my mood is…)

How pets impact your overall health

And they also:

  • are a great motivator
  • relax and calm your mind when you stroke them
  • can lower your blood pressure in stressful situations
  • are great company and give you a sense of security
  • fulfil the basic human need for touch
  • make you feel needed
  • increase our sense of self-esteem and wellbeing
  • teach you how to live in the moment (they don’t worry about the past or the future)
  • teach kids empathy and sense of responsibility, as well as building better relationships with other people
  • are great help to people in later life, but also to children with ADHD or autism

Note: By no means I recommend you to adopt a pet as the solution if you’re temporarily feeling anxious, depressed or lonely. An animal is a huge responsibility and it’s important not to take this decision lightly. A good animal charity would ensure your home is suitable for them. They’re not “just for Christmas”, or “just for lockdown” either.

Do you believe in the pet effect and the human-animal bond? You can get involved, support HABRI (the Human Animal Bond Research Institute) by: donating, becoming an advocate or simply staying informed!

Big Girl x

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