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How Can Having a Furry Four-Legged Friend Help Your Mental Health?

dog girl mental health anxiety depression serotonin dopamine oxytocin cells love plaster paw cavapoo

Artwork by Eve McFarlane Salvo

Our minds are complex systems, a web of equations, wires and mysteries. So, it can often be difficult to crack the codes, especially when it comes to mental health and building up those feel-good and cuddle hormones. Do you ever find yourself wondering how you could increase your oxytocin, serotonin or dopamine levels? What if the answer came in the form of a furry four-legged friend? Dogs are scientifically proven to help people who struggle with mental health issues through a variety of ways – more than just providing unlimited licks and snuggles! Let’s explore the real benefits of expanding your family with a canine friend…

Time for walkies and to get up + go

Mental health issues can impact on everyday life and sometimes make daily tasks seem impossible, leaving you sometimes questioning your purpose in life. Having a dog waiting for you at the end of your bed or patiently sat at the bottom of your stairs (depending on your personal preference, without getting into politics), can be the perfect encouragement you need to hop out of bed each morning. With the addition of a furry friend, comes the responsibility of a routine consisting of walks, set meals, training, grooming and supply shopping. Whilst this may be overwhelming to some, others will find that a routine will provide them with a sense of stability that will in turn drastically improve their mental well-being.

Consistent walking and physical activity, can have many great advantages when it comes to mental health. Exercise has the power to alter the chemistry in your brain by decreasing your stress hormones and replacing them with all the good ones, like serotonin. Each dog breed requires different amounts and lengths of walks, which is usually determined by their size and energy levels. Having said this, every dog needs fresh air, which makes them the perfect walking buddy to ensure that you are getting in your daily steps to clear your mind.

Man’s best friend

In a huge world, feelings of loneliness are unfortunately never scarce. Depending on your location, stage of life and personal circumstances, it is not uncommon to go through times of feeling isolated. That is why for many, the companionship of a dog really can be life changing. Dogs are renowned for having a high level of emotional intelligence which allows them to build strong connections with people and become in tune with our emotions. Our hormone oxytocin, often associated with maternal bonding, rises through contact with dogs which causes an even deeper connection. Everyone needs a friendly face and can you really get better than one covered in fur and willing to give you endless amounts of affection?

Breaking down barriers

Apart from being a loyal friend, dogs can also be a great support when it comes to making new acquaintances. Many mental health struggles can make tasks such as meeting new people and even leaving the house feel too daunting or challenging to overcome. However, having a trustworthy sidekick to rely on can make the seemingly impossible, possible (just think Batman, Sherlock…need I go on?). A dog can be an effective stress reliever and help you to initiate interaction with others in a more relaxed way whilst putting you at ease.

dog animal mental health anxiety depression serotonin dopamine oxytocin cells love paw hand interaction

Artwork by Eve McFarlane Salvo

Not a dog person?

Dogs are not your cup of tea or it is not possible to have one? Not to worry – there are plenty of other pets that have been proven to also have a great positive impact on your mind. For instance, cats will usually require less attention than dogs but can also make great companions. Now let us think smaller, for example: rabbits, birds and hamsters. All of which can provide many mental health benefits, through their social, loving and cuddly natures. Still not sold? Or keeping a pet just really is not a possibility? Borrowing a pet from family, friends or looking on trusted platforms can mean reaping the benefits of having one without the long-term commitment. On the other hand, if animals in general do not sound like the answer for you, exercise and routine can still be beneficial for your mind even without a furry friend to accompany you.

Final thoughts

Without a doubt, having a dog pottering around can lead to many great benefits when it comes to improving your mental health. However, behind their cute and furry appearance, lies an incredibly big responsibility that should not be overlooked. At the end of the day, it all comes down to you and what is the best way to look after your mental health. It is not realistic to claim that a dog can ‘woof’ all your problems away, but if they are right for you then they can definitely have a big positive impact on your mental well-being.


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