Pets’ Impact on Mental Health

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Media by Arya Patri

Oscar (left), a Goldendoode, lays on the ground after going on a walk with his owner, Arya Patri, sophomore. “It’s helped me have something good come out of this pandemic,” Patri said. “Having a pet who loves you unconditionally makes you feel good.”

From warm kisses to wagging tails and a whole lot of belly rubs, Anahita Kaul, sophomore, was oblivious to the everlasting impact a furry animal would have on her life. 

As a birthday gift, her aunt adopted a Labradoodle named Leo for her with her parents completely unaware and opposed to ever having a dog. But with the right words, Kaul managed to convince her parents to let her keep Leo. 

“At first it was a lot of work,” Kaul said. “But now that I’ve gotten used to it. He’s so much fun and my favorite thing in the world.”

Now having Leo for a little more than a year, Kaul said she realizes the true value of having a pet: mental health. 

“It truly is important for everyone to have at least one pet, especially kids and teenagers,” Kaul said. 

When stressed, Kaul spends time with Leo watching movies and going on walks together. 

“He’s my stress relief and I’m not sure what I would do without him,” Kaul said. “I love him and he’s like my other sibling.”

Kaul is unmistakably not alone as Lindsey Braun, program director of Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), said pets can help people of all ages reduce anxiety, depression and stress. 

Braun said the human-animal bond has been shown to influence oxytocin levels in the brain. Oxytocin is commonly known as the bonding hormone and causes physiological changes including slowing heart rate, blood pressure and inhibiting stress hormones. 

Braun said it is beneficial for teenagers and young adults to have time with a dog. 

“High school and college can be a stressful time in one’s life,” Braun said. “But brief time spent with a therapy dog can buffer stress, reduce anxiety and increase confidence in students.”

Braun also said that with quarantine, pets are especially important.

“They can help us cope with stress, uncertainty and provide companionship and emotional support as we spend less time with others and practice social distancing,” Braun said. 

They can help us cope with stress, uncertainty and provide companionship and emotional support as we spend less time with others and practice social distancing.”

— Lindsey Braun, program director of Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)

One HABRI survey showed 72 percent of pet owners said spending time with their pet is helping reduce stress and improving well-being during the pandemic.

“Pets have certainly played an important role in our lives this year, and the human-animal bond is stronger than ever,” Braun said. “Spending more time at home has translated to spending more time with pets, and that has had a positive impact on our health and wellness and that of our pets as well.”

Data has shown that at the onset of the pandemic, people were adopting and fostering more than before and adoptions have since leveled off due to the adjustment of this new normal.

Grant Ezell, volunteer coordinator at Stray Rescue of St. Louis, said adoptions have grown but the intakes for stray, abandoned or abused animals have also increased.

In response, pet food and supply pantries have been added in the last 6 months to assist people who have to give up or abandon their animals. 

“They can come in any time and pick up food or litter which helps the family stay together and reduces abandoned pets,” Ezell said.

It’s helped me have something good come out of this pandemic. Having a pet who loves you unconditionally makes you feel good.”

— Arya Patri, sophomore

Ezell has pets of his own and said he believes they are vitally important for this pandemic.

“They are like family and at least for me, it’s been nice having my pets around that I can love on and not worry about us infecting each other!” Ezell said.

Like Kaul, Arya Patri, sophomore, said her mental health improved after adopting a Goldendoodle named Oscar at the beginning of quarantine when adoption rates were increasing. 

“It’s helped me have something good come out of this pandemic,” Patri said. “Having a pet who loves you unconditionally makes you feel good.”

Having a dog comes with responsibilities and it instills a sense of purpose and routine, Patri said. 

Patri said she highly recommends families to adopt as during these times mental health is at a low. 

“I’ve been nothing but happy since adopting and it is a great and fun experience,” Patri said.