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Benefits of Spending Time with Animals for Mental Health

Benefits of Spending Time with Animals for Mental Health

Have you ever come home after a bad day, cuddled with your pet, and suddenly felt better? Interacting with animals effectively helps ease stress and boosts mental wellness. Because of their often positive effect on mental health, animals are used in various types of therapy to promote healing and bring patients comfort.

The following are several reasons why interacting with animals is good for mental health.

  1. They boost happy hormones. For most people, being near an animal prompts their body to release serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, hormones that help you relax and alleviate stress. The release of these happy hormones may reduce feelings of depression and sadness and boost mental wellness.
  2. They relieve anxiety. Animals help many people feel at ease. Those living with anxiety or dealing with agitation caused by dementia or other illnesses can benefit from animal therapy to calm their nerves and promote relaxation.
  3. They provide companionship and purpose. A common symptom of depression is a loss of purpose or feelings of hopelessness. Animals offer companionship and comfort, which reduces loneliness and provides a sense of purpose – especially if you are caring for the animal.
  4. They encourage you to stay active. Whether you are caring for a pet or volunteering for an animal sanctuary, being around animals often requires you to be outside in the fresh air and encourages exercise.

Types of Animal Therapy

  • Pet therapy services: Many hospitals, assisted living communities, rehabilitation centers, counseling centers, and skilled nursing communities offer pet therapy services to provide companionship to residents and patients. Visits with therapy animals provide a calming, comforting presence and reduce stress, which promotes healing and recovery. Christian Health offers pet therapy services across many of our communities to those in our care.
  • Therapeutic horseback riding: Pony Power, an organization in Mahwah, New Jersey, provides therapeutic horseback riding and horse-related activities to people with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, as well as those with learning differences, mental health problems, trauma, and life-limiting or life-threatening diseases. The farm’s variety of nature-based programs are designed to enhance participants' physical and mental well-being.
  • Service animals: Service animals can be trained to offer a host of health support services, including mental health care.Those with mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder may qualify for a registered psychiatric service dog. These dogs can go anywhere with their owner, detect signs of anxiety, and help eliminate symptoms by fetching medication, finding help, or calming their owner through affection, distraction, or other methods.

How to Spend More Time with Animals for Mental Wellness (and Give Back to Your Community)

There are many ways to enjoy the mental health benefits of animal interaction while also giving your time to help support a good cause.

  • Volunteer at a vet or animal shelter: Veterinary offices and animal shelters often need someone to help with walking, feeding, and cleaning cages. You could also volunteer with an animal rescue to temporarily foster rescued animals, attend adoption events, or take fosters to vet appointments until they find their forever homes.
  • Train therapy or service dogs: Help people facing their own health challenges by becoming a therapy animal trainer or handler.
  • Volunteer at a wildlife refuge: Wildlife conservation is a great way to make a difference, help the environment, and boost your own mental wellness at the same time.

Pet Therapy at Christian Health

Across our communities and services, we offer comforting pet therapy services to patients and residents through our volunteer program. A variety of cute and cuddly pets, including dogs, cats, and even a guinea pig, pay scheduled visits to our communities, where residents and patients enjoy holding or petting them. Pet therapy volunteers at Christian Health even walk around our communities to pay random visits to residents and patients to make their day brighter. Some volunteers even say their dogs become so attached to the residents and patients that they miss them if they skip a week!

Learn more about volunteering at Christian Health by contacting Caroline Silva, Volunteer Coordinator, at (201) 848-5797 or