10 Ways Your Pet Can Improve Your Mental Health

| Pregnancy & Parenting

Maybe your kids begged and begged for a dog until you finally caved and said yes, or maybe you had your cat since before any of your kids lived in this world. Either way, your pet has likely become a member of your family. You take him on family outings and even include him in family photos, and we're guessing that Fido is the first thing your kids turn to as soon as they run in the door. Turns out your pet can be even more than a playful family member; he can help boost your mental health!

woman walking her dog outside

He gets you outside. Sun and fresh air can elevate your mood, which is helpful when you realize that your dog will drag you outdoors whether you like it or not. The vitamin D your body produces thanks to the sunshine can fight physical and mental conditions like depression, cancer, obesity and heart attacks. Next time your dog is antsy but you're more comfortable on the couch, take him out for a walk for both of your sakes.

He gets you moving. Speaking of walks, your pet will want to go out for a walk whether you want to or not. The more time you spend outdoors walking or running with your dog, the stronger and healthier you'll be, which is a major boost to self esteem.

>> Read more: How to End a Bad Day on a Good Note (And Why You Should)

He is a stress reliever. Did you know petting your dog can help reduce stress? And not just for you. The rhythmic petting is comforting to both you and your dog. Concentrating on the texture of his fur, the warmth he radiates, and his deeps breaths will bring increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels. Who knew simply stroking your pet could evoke a calming effect after a long and stressful day?

He's a welcome distraction. If Fido's not in the mood to sit idly by while you pet him, he will surely demand your attention. His relentlessness to get your attention can at times be annoying, but next time maybe you should welcome the distraction. Playing with your pet will distract you from the stresses of your day and require you to be fully in the moment.

He makes great company. When the kids are all at sleepovers and hubby is out with the guys, it can get a little lonely compared to the full house you're used to. We're not saying you don't enjoy your solitude, but after a while you might crave some company, and that's where your pet comes in! Plus, pets are often intuitive and can sense when you're having a "ruff" day, refusing to leave your side.

He's a great "listener." Even though you know your pet can't technically understand you, it's nice to think that he's trying to. Venting about the stresses of work or family matters, or even spilling the beans about something you've been afraid of admitting can make you feel free and unburdened by the info you were suppressing before. We bet you'll never find a cheaper or cuter therapy session!

baby-girl-with-dog copy

He loves you unconditionally. Pets don't care what you wear, what you look like, how you behave, or what you ate for lunch. They are just happy to be with you. Think of the last time you walked in the door and were greeted by a wiggling furball, wagging his tail and (trying to) suppress the urge to jump up on your legs. You can't help but smile!

He makes you smile. "I just like to smile! Smiling's my favorite!" Truer words have never been spoken, especially when it comes to mental health. Smiling triggers neurotransmitters and raises your serotonin and dopamine levels, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness. Next time your pet makes you smile, embrace the feeling and feel your mood lift.

He's great at socializing. Chances are you've met someone new while out for a walk or at the dog park. Your dog is an easy topic of conversation when making new friends, especially if they've got a pup as well. Serving as an icebreaker is only one of the perks of your pet.

>> Read more: Can Your Pet Make You Healthy?

He brings your family closer together. Just as your pet is an easy topic of conversation among strangers, the same goes for certain family members. If your child is timid or nervous when talking to older or less familiar family members, bringing up an easy and fun topic like her pet can do wonders. A family pet is oftentimes a first experience with death for your kids, which can prepare them for it down the road. Kids also learn to share and take on responsibility with pet-related chores.

Whether your pet is a feisty youngster or an old lazy veteran, he can still brighten your days and give you happiness. How does your pet improve your life? Share with us in the comments below.