By Valerie Rice | November 10, 2020
Raise your hand if you love fuzzy creatures. It could also be feathered friends. Or things with scales. Pets, people, I’m talking about pets. I have four pets: three cats and a dog. Honestly, these cats just keep showing up at my house and who am I to deny them? I love their ears and tails and demanding little ways and how they knock everything off my tables and attack my toes and steal my pillows and… Okay, you get the picture. Owning a pet can be very beneficial, especially for your mental health. And now, that we live in the time of plague, a pet can prevent the horrors of social isolation.
Yes, we live in the time of the covid plague, a worldwide pandemic that requires we quarantine and stay away from everyone including loved ones. It does not, however, require that we kick our pets to the curb. And the number one benefit of pet ownership is constant companionship followed by unconditional love. In fact, forming a bond with your fur baby reduces stress, which is a huge benefit for mental health. I always have a shoulder, or a head, to cry on because my dog knows when I am upset, and her big head is great for catching tears. THEY LOVE YOU FOREVER! (and hog all the covers)
The antics of my cats make me laugh when I am feeling particularly down. There is something hilarious about kitties scrambling around on wood floors chasing hair ties and tackling each other from hiding spots. Just being around the other living things can pull you from the dregs of isolation, especially if you have to take them outside for a walk. Yes, potty time is going to force you to move, which will provide you with exercise and fresh air, and possibly a peek at other people in a safer environment than the confines of your home. For all you parents with kids on the spectrum, a pet improves their social skills better than any OT I have ever found and here is a link to back that up. I know y’all love research.
Remember that potty time for puppy? Exercise is good for your health, especially during a quarantine. So walk that dog 3-4 times a day, and take an extra trip around the block. I mentioned stress reduction. Being around animals reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. No idea why, but it works. We don’t know EVERYTHING, so just run with it. And what happens when your stress is lowered and you exercise more? Better heart health including blood pressure and lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Hooray! Pets can also reduce allergies when introduced at a young age. Whaaat?? Yeah, have you ever gone in for allergy shots? That isn’t medicine, sweetie. Those are irritants (allergens) designed to boost your body’s response. A pet is a much more delightful way to do this. Even owning a goldfish can help young people with diabetes. And finally, I cannot stress this enough, PETS DECREASE DEPRESSION!! Which reduces pain responses and improves overall health.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS
Now that we have talked about the basics, what can having an ESA do for people with mental health issues? Well, everything. This is a life changing event. Have you ever seen a full-blown autism meltdown in a teenage boy? I’m talking pacing, screaming, violence to the point of breaking bones and walls and furniture, uncontrollable self harm, and your neighbors calling the police. Most people have not. I have, many times, and it is terrifying for both the child and the parent. You know who isn’t scared? His Pitbull. Not even a little bit. That dog just runs up, wraps his paws around him, tackles him to the ground in a hug and licks his tears. Voila. Meltdown over. The dog reduces damage to the house, stress to family, and fear in a child in under 5 minutes as opposed to 3 hours. Good boy! No training for him, because he is an empathetic breed who was raised with his boy and knows him well. This is an emotional support dog.
Severe depression keeping you from moving out of bed? Fluffy cat is more than happy to walk all over your chest and demand food, petting, and cuddle up for a good snuggle. Your symptoms will ease and you will have motivation to care for your kitty AND yourself, even if just a little bit. Got PTSD and can’t leave your home to get to the mailbox or grocery store? Get a pet that will gleefully wear a vest and march in front of you, boosting your sense of safety and confidence. The benefits are endless, but the choice in animals needs to be wise.
ARE YOU CONVINCED?
You should be, I am very convincing. Okay, don’t run out and buy a pet unless you are able to care for it. I don’t just mean feed it, I also mean vet care and other necessities. Animals are amazing creatures with many benefits, and I could go as far as to say they are magic, but science will tell me otherwise. Do yourself a favor and look into it though. Be well!