How Dogs Help Our Mental Health
Owners love their dogs; today’s pets have become nothing less than children to us. So how exactly can they improve our mental health?
Emotional Connection through Companionship
There is absolutely nothing like a loved one you can rely on to provide that companionship, that specific emotional ‘shoulder’. As humans, we are an interactive species and function best with social interaction.
In today’s day and age, pets have become like children; there is little difference for many dog owners. Our dogs are emotional, dependent creatures, their cheerfulness is often contagious. From the time they are young puppies on to adulthood, we develop many of the same bonds and emotional attachments.
Studies have shown:
- An overwhelming decrease in depression among dog owners
- An improved reaction to stressful situations, lower blood pressure and a significant decline in hypertension
- Elevated levels of serotonin and dopamine when playing with pets, causing a calming sensation
- A longer survival rate for heart attack sufferers with dogs than those without
- Fewer doctor visits in pet owners over 65 than those without
Lower Rates of Depression and Anxiety
Not only have studies shown that elderly pet owners enjoy a healthy lifestyle overall, above non pet owners, they have shown specific decreases in depression and anxiety. Many elderly people become depressed due to a feeling of loneliness that diminishes significantly for those enjoying the companionship of their pets.
As a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s ‘reward and pleasure’ centers, dopamine enables us to not only see rewards but move toward them. Deficiency can result in Parkinson’s disease as well as a higher affinity for addictions.
As far as human ‘moods and feelings’, dopamine is extremely important, even vital.
Chemically produced by our nerve cells, serotonin is produced from the diet- essential amino acid tryptophan. Beyond dopamine, serotonin impacts every part of the body, not simply considered a ‘neutral mood stabilizer’. Serotonin helps with:
- Reducing depression
- Regulating anxiety
- Healing wounds
- Maintaining bone health
- Stimulating nausea for a healthy sleep schedule
Providing Structure for Our Daily Routine
Like human children, our dogs need our daily attention and care, whether it is from feeding, to exercise, to play. Like grade or elementary school, they provide structure to our daily lives.
When we wake up in the morning them must be let outside. We must make sure they have plenty of food and water available each day, and because some dogs tend to eat continuously this means providing a specific amount at a specific time. Our dogs need exercise, usually in the form of walks, provided regularly to maintain a healthy weight. And then there is regular medical treatment in the form of standard vaccinations, monthly heartworm and flea preventatives, etc.
Simply stated, our dogs help provide us with daily stability in our lives.
Exceptional Work of Service Dogs
No one can dispute the spectacular works done by emotional support animals, from assisting hospitalized patients find meaning to even providing comfort and companionship to the terminally ill.
Unfortunately, humans tend to need to find reason in visiting the sick, the mentally handicapped, incarcerated and the dying. Most of these unfortunate people live out their last days through loneliness without companionship simply because, sadly, no one cares. Dogs, on the other hand, make no such distinction; they would be happy just for the attention and social contact regardless of the person!
Above and Beyond
Emotional support dogs are thus labeled for that very reason; they provide emotional support to those who need it. That being said, any dog anywhere can be labeled an ‘emotional support dog’. Service dogs are a different matter altogether, the elite, the best support dog can offer man.
Dogs are very intelligent animals, able to perform a great many feats if given reason. Those world class dog agility championships you might see televised throughout the globe might as well be child’s play as far as their concerned. The question is more ‘is the human educated enough to train the dog’ than ‘can the dog be trained’.
From carrying phones to picking up laundry, even opening doors, service dogs are highly trained animals providing service to disabled owners who need them. The training service dogs receive isn’t simply limited to retrieving objects or picking up laundry; they can even interrupt psychotic episodes, many have been trained to dial 911, and even answer the phone with a specific set of vocal barks meant to alert emergency responders. A great many people owe their very lives to the intelligence, training and capabilities of their service dog.
Some disabilities service dogs commonly work with include:
- Mobility Issues (Including Paralysis)
- Sensory Issues (Blindness, Hearing Loss, etc.)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Bone and Skeletal (Such as Osteoporosis, Scoliosis, etc.)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Mood Boosting Power of Dogs. Helpguide.org. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm
Information on Service Dogs. United States Dog Registry. Retrieved from http://usdogregistry.org/information/information-on-service-dogs/