The Pet Effect: Mental Health and Animals

Every year on October 10 we observe World Mental Health Day. Many people spend their daily lives living with mental illness. 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, and we all face challenges every day that can impact our mental health. The veterinarians at Assistance Animals Consulting in a collaborative partnership with healthcare providers, utilize a unique connection with the use of pets and the human-animal bond to help improve mental health. Today in observance of World Mental Health Day, we discuss an alternative healthcare strategy to see mental healthcare through the lens of a veterinarian.

How do animals or pets support our mental health? There is a vast amount of research that scientifically documents the positive impact animals or more specifically pets can have on our mental, physical, and physiological health. A positive interaction with an animal can increase oxytocin levels, a hormone referred to as our happy hormone. Psychological stress reduction such as feelings of fear and anxiety can also occur with positive interactions with an animal. As it relates to mental health, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute calls the positive impact pets have on our lives “The Pet Effect”.

Pets can be used as therapy animals for mental health treatment options. Interactions with animals can help with management of long-term mental health conditions. Healthcare providers can encourage their patients to spend more time with their personal pets at home to help improve their mental health. Alternatively, healthcare providers can prescribe their patient an Emotional Support Animal, Service Animal, or utilize a Pet Therapy counseling or therapy animal team program.

Veterinarians can’t prescribe a support animal for their client, however it is important that we collaborate with the prescribing healthcare provider and patient to maximize the health benefits of this human-animal bond treatment strategy. A key component of an effective human-animal bond treatment plan is ensuring the mutual health benefit of the participating support animal. As veterinarians who focus on creating, implementing, and managing human-animal bond healthcare strategies, we are ultimately advocates for animal health and welfare as well as for public health and safety.

A robust human-animal bond treatment plan should fully address the following considerations:

Every year treatment options for mental health conditions continue to improve. Every year science continues to document the health benefits of the human-animal bond. Our goal at Assistance Animals Consulting is to maximize the therapeutic impact of the human-animal bond. We want to mobilize the efforts for use of animals to support improvements with mental health. Animal-Assisted Intervention therapies should continue to be used as an option to produce beneficial outcomes for patients. Ultimately, everyone can use the power of pets to improve their mental health.

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