The mental health benefits of adopting a pet
There are a hundred different things to consider when adopting a pet, including your living space, schedule, how you will care for your new fuzzy friend, and what veterinarians are available in your area. Considering all the effort and expense of a new pet can be incredibly off-putting and daunting for potential owners, especially as the global economy worsens.
However, there are a myriad of benefits of pet ownership, some of which are only now being supported by scientific evidence. One of the primary benefits of adopting a pet is the boost it provides for your mental health – and there is research to prove it!
Gone to the dogs
Unlike our fellow humans, pets are always there for us in their unique ways (cats have a funny way of showing their affection sometimes, but it is there nonetheless!), and bringing a pet home can feel like a ray of sunshine has been introduced into the house. Pets do not require much from us – simply the basics (food, water, shelter, playtime, affection, etc.) – and they give so much in return.
In fact, just touching an animal has been shown to boost your mental health. A study recently published in Switzerland measured the brain activity of study participants as they pet dogs. When they crunched the numbers, the scientists found that brain activity surged while participants were petting the dogs. The brain activity became stronger as the participants returned to pet the dogs again.
The cat's meow
We cannot forget cats! While cats are often ridiculed as self-serving little dictators, several studies have found that these furry friends can have a massive impact on mental health – even if they occasionally knock over your house plants.
A study in Australia found that cat owners have improved psychological health than people who do not own any pets. Online studies have found that people feel a boost of happiness and well-being after watching cat videos online.
Another study involved researchers visiting the domiciles of cat owners and testing how they react to stress and whether the individuals' pet cats assisted with reducing stress. The study found that cat owners were able to complete stressful tasks with lower heart rates and blood pressures than those who did not have cats with them.
Finally, another study found that individuals who own cats are more socially aware and sensitive, more trusting of other people, and tend to feel supported by the massive community of cat lovers online and in the real world. Cats are incredibly emotionally aware and sensitive animals, so most cat owners likely are not surprised by the results of this study!
Adopt don't shop!
Animal companionship is important regardless of whether you adopt or buy a pet. However, shelters around America are currently struggling with high numbers of abandoned, feral, and unwanted dogs, cats, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents.
Sadly, thousands of these animals in shelters across America – particularly cats and dogs – are euthanized every year. They are euthanized not because they are sick, old, or dangerous but because there is only so much space in animal shelters and rescues.
Therefore the Humane Society of New York, along with thousands of other rescues and NGOs, advocates adopting pets, not buying them. Adopting an animal effectively saves them from an unknown fate (depending on whether it is a kill or no-kill shelter).
Regardless of how responsible a breeder is, they are breeding the animal for money and contributing to the overpopulation of dogs and cats in America. If you choose to adopt rather than shop, you are saving that animal's life and making a significant difference in its life.
Giving back and paying it forward
A number of studies have found that volunteering is an excellent way to develop confidence and boost self-esteem. Individuals who adopt a new pet are doing something wonderful for their community and their individual furry friend.
In this way, they can enjoy the fact that they have made the world a better place in a small but tangible way. Saving one animal's life may seem insignificant to some people, but it is the entire world for that particular animal – and that is important!
Additionally, many people who have positive adoption experiences go on to volunteer at their local animal shelter or provide support in their own ways. This will, in turn, boost mental health as it gives the volunteer confidence and self-esteem while also assuring them that they are important, worthy, and capable of making a difference.
No matter how small a first step can seem, it can make a significant difference in a person's (or animal's) life.