Can Pets Really Enhance Mental Health and Wellbeing?

Can Pets Really Enhance Mental Health and Wellbeing?

It’s thought that about 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem and, closer to home, one in four British adults will experience some sort of mental disorder each year – with depression and anxiety the most widespread.

Along with more traditional treatments such as talking therapies and medication, Caroline Griffith, animal well-being expert and Communications Manager at natural and raw pet food manufacturer Natures Menu, says that animals are increasingly being used within hospitals and rehabilitation centres to help with mental health and wellbeing.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

The bond between humans and animals is a deep and complex relationship but it is one that has been explored for centuries. Animals have long been trained to aid humans in a range of ways, but modern Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), or Pet Therapy as it is also known – where pets are brought in by clinicians to be used as part of mental health treatment – is thought to have started in the 1960s.

American child psychologist Boris Levinson discovered, apparently by accident, that a child he was treating opened up when his dog, Jingles, was present in the sessions. This paved the way for more research in this area with studies on how animals can be of benefit to people with a range of mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s dementia, Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder and depression.

Sasha the dog provokes a response

Clinical psychologist Hanne Homer, who spent 17 years working for the National Health Service (NHS), took her dog, Sasha, to visit patients and reports generally seeing an “alertness” which was otherwise missing.

“It is not a prescribed treatment but we were interested to see what would happen,” she said. Dr Homer, who worked in both mental health and neuropsychology, took Sasha into several different treatment centres.

“The kind of people Sasha saw had suffered stroke, traumatic brain injury; people with dysphasia – language problems – plus people with physical disabilities and people with depression,” she said.

“What came across as a general theme is that with all these people who were withdrawn and not terribly motivated, there was some kind of alertness when they saw Sasha.”

Dr Homer, who now runs her own business, The Walnut Tree Centre, in north Norfolk, which combines psychological therapy and yoga practice for the treatment of anxiety, depression, mood disorders, trauma and substance dependencies, said a couple of incidents in particular stuck in her mind.

“There was a gentleman who had a language impairment. I had seen him for a couple of psychotherapy sessions before I brought Sasha in and for the first time he actually managed to express a word, ‘Alsatian’. I later understood, from his partner, that he had an Alsatian at home.

“The other was a patient with severe depression, he was in a wheelchair and never really initiated any movements. When I came in with Sasha he very slowly, very laboriously, reached his hand out to stroke her.”

Why do humans respond to animals?

Sasha is a nine-year-old an Australian Cattle Dog who, while frightened of wheelchairs at first, soon settled into her role. “It was like she knew she had to be quiet and to sit and be stroked,” said Dr Homer, who hopes to use Sasha in her current venture where indicated.

“The mystery is what is it in animals that bring this out in people? I think it is something that needs more research.”

Dr Daniel Allen, founder of Pet Nation and columnist for Mental Health Today magazine, adds:

“Since childhood, everybody has had their own personal experiences with animals. Encounters can trigger individual memories, and stimulate those who may be shy or have issues with socialising or communicating. Animals are well-known social lubricants. Interaction can increase confidence and help individuals feel more widely accepted within their community and society.

“The therapeutic benefit of an individual animal is linked to a person’s mental health and human development needs, rather than particular dog breeds or species per se.”

Alternative animal assistance

Many different types of animals, including horses and cats, have also been used as part of AAT studies. The Mental Health Foundation carried out a survey with Cats Protection involving more than 600 people, half of whom described themselves as having a mental health problem.

The results show that 87{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends.

Half of the cat owners felt that their cat’s presence and companionship was most helpful, followed by a third of respondents describing stroking a cat as a calming and helpful activity.

Commenting at the time, Eva Cyhlarova, head of research for the charity, said: “Previous research has supported the contribution of pets to our mental health and our findings support the view that caring for a cat can improve your wellbeing.”

While there is evidence that pets can play a part in mental wellbeing, more dedicated studies are needed if AAT is to become a more regular part of mainstream treatment.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

10 Responses to Can Pets Really Enhance Mental Health and Wellbeing?

  1. zack smith says:

    Supposedly, several locals where the fish lives have had pretty bad run ins with it. It is mainly a vegetarian, but will chomp on whatever is in it’s way. Yikes for sure!!Tips and Tricks

  2. Pinare says:

    I tend to agree, having a pet at home really makes you feel better and helps with stress. You have to be thorough in taking care of him though, and for this is a great website to remember. Their high-quality medical products will take care of any illness your pet might catch during the course of his life.

  3. Having read this I believed it was very informative. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this article together.  リアル ドール ラブドール

  4. emma says:

    I often wonder whether Riggers, my dog would miss me if I were gone, or she would only miss the food I give her 🙂 I saw her yawn several times after I did so, which gives me a little bit of solace.Dog Bite

  5. lisa says:

    I have ever seen and generating the great thoughts as well,keep it up. This blog is always making the wonderful thoughts and preparing for essential car bed wholesale

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.