Why having a pet can be good for your mental health

An American writer, Julie Barton, in 2015 published Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself. The book, which was widely praised by critics and became a best-seller, reveals how adopting a Golden Retriever puppy called Bunker helped the author to recover from severe depression. The San Francisco Book Review called it “heartwarming proof of the ability of pets to alter our lives for the better”.

Barton’s memoir is the latest book to celebrate the positive impact of living with a dog. She’s not the first writer to tackle this subject, but she seems to have articulated the simple comforts of the relationship with her pet in a way that particularly connected with readers.

The book describes the healing quality of Bunker’s unconditional acceptance and explains how her love for him had a calming effect by providing a new outlet for her thoughts.

Pets and Mental Health

happy golden labrador dog in the grass

Many pet owners – not just dog lovers – can testify to the uplifting qualities of having an animal in the home. Of course, no one would suggest that simply owning a dog is a guaranteed ‘cure’ for depression or any other mental health problems. Caring for a pet is a very personal experience and benefits different people in different ways.

Having said that, the recent publicity around the book Dog Medicine has accompanied greater general awareness of mental health issues and growing momentum behind campaigns to reform services in this area, particularly in the UK. Prime Minister, Theresa May, has announced plans to improve support for young people and adults suffering from mental health issues in the workplace.

The government estimates that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life. Barton’s book and the accounts of other pet owners suggests that for some of these people, finding a path through this painful experience could be easier with a faithful animal companion at their side.

Emotional Support

white longhaired cat being held by the owner in the kitchen

Research does support the link between pets and mental health. A 2011 study published by the American Psychological Association concluded that pets were important sources of emotional support for “everyday people”, in other words not people facing significant health challenges.

Researchers observed that pet owners tended to have greater self-esteem and were less lonely, fearful and preoccupied than people who did not have animals. “Pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically,” the study concluded.

What do you think; do you agree that owning a pet has a positive effect in this way? And what other books about dogs or other pets would you recommend?
Let us know in the comments below!

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