Pets provide special companionship, love and emotional support to humans. They can reduce loneliness and depression, and make you feel like you’re not alone, no matter what you’re going through. Animals help you even in the most challenging times just by being there. Among the different types of pets, cats and dogs are two of the most popular choices. So the conversation on cats vs. dogs even exists in mental health.
Studies have shown cats and dogs can positively impact mental health, and promote emotional well-being. Both pets have qualities that make humans’ hearts soft. They have a playful nature that brings enthusiasm and laughter to their owners. Here is a look at how pets impact our mental health — with the evidence to prove it.
Cats vs. Dogs and Your Mental Health
Cats and dogs have the potential to impact a person’s mental health positively. Cats, for example, provide a calming effect because they’re independent in nature. They have a gentle presence that can soothe your emotions. On the other hand, dogs are excellent social companions, which promotes physical activity and social interaction. There are still many other things you can learn about these two pets.
According to one study from Washington State University, cats have therapeutic benefits because they provide companionship and social support. This benefits people who are socially isolated and have experienced stressful events in their lives. In addition, the researchers mentioned cats reduce anxiety and stress because of the sense of calm and security they bring.
This study also noted cats promote physical activity because playing with them increases heart and breathing rates. They help in improving one’s mood because owners will not feel a sense of loneliness. Cats can also boost self-esteem because of the opportunity to take care of another living thing.
Imagine a cat sitting on your lap and gently kneading your thighs. Doesn’t that make you feel less negative, and more happy and hopeful? Cats are nonjudgmental creatures, so whether you have shortcomings or make mistakes, they will not make you feel less about yourself. They allow you to feel more at ease and accepted in their presence.
Dogs thrive on human interaction because of their social and active nature. They are eager to engage with others, which can benefit you if you feel lonely. Dogs also offer their owner the opportunity to be outdoors and exercise by walking or playing fetch. This keeps the owner active, which helps maintain good mental health.
Caring for a dog takes more commitment and responsibility, which can help with feeling more fulfilled. One study found interacting with dogs helps increase oxytocin levels associated with stress reduction. The bonding process deepens the emotional connection between dog owners and their pets, providing a reliable source of comfort and support.
The benefits of dogs are based on subjective experience and research. Another study has similar findings and talks about the biopsychosocial model of human-animal interaction (HAI):
- They found HAI reduces stress and anxiety. It has been shown that petting a dog lowers cortisol levels — a stress hormone. They also discovered that petting a dog for 15 minutes reduces cortisol levels.
- HAI improves mood and self-esteem. The researchers discovered people who interact with therapy dogs feel less lonely and more confident. Dogs improve your mood because they give you something to accomplish and when you achieve that, you feel good about yourself.
- Dogs also help you have better sleep quality because they provide a sense of comfort and security. This allows people to fall asleep more easily. The study also found people were less likely to wake up than those who didn’t sleep with their dogs.
How Pets Impact Our Mental Health
Many sources — including the American Psychiatric Association — back up the positive effects of pets on dog owners. Here’s how pets impact our mental health:
- Pets are a source of emotional and social support for everyone, regardless of background or life.
- Pet owners — regardless of animal type — have shown better self-esteem and physical health, and are less lonely than non-owners.
- Animals reduce anxiety and stress, provide companionship, and offer a calming presence to their owners.
- Dog owners have been shown to benefit from their pets’ unconditional love in the face of cravings and triggers often experienced in substance abuse treatment recovery.
- Eighty-six percent of pet owners mentioned their pets positively impact them.
- Having an animal around can be an excellent source of happiness for people with mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
Should I Choose a Cat or a Dog?
Both cats and dogs are excellent for your mental health because of their many benefits, including reducing stress levels and providing companionship. If you’re asking, “Are cats or dogs better for depression?” the answer is the same — both help you feel less lonely. Pets offer a nonjudgmental friendship that supports you no matter where you are in life.