Mental Health and Pet Ownership

From Left to Right: Ivanna Iwasykiw, Simona Jellinek with Ryder (dog), Jessica Golosky with Fabien (dog), Charles Gluckstein with Duke and Sam (dogs) and Jonathan Burton

The King of Prussia coined the famous saying, "A dog is a man's best friend," in 1739. While the phrase is over 230 years old, it remains relevant to today's world. The history of evolution shows that dogs were the first to be domesticated to hunt and guard food over 10,000 years ago. The dynamic of our relationship with dogs and other pets has since evolved into more of an emotional relationship, and any pet owner can attest to the unconditional love and emotional connection they have towards their pets.


Today Beyond the shared affection between pet owners and their pets, research has shown that pet owners stand to gain various physical and psychological benefits. This includes improved physical health, reduced anxiety and stress, and better social connections. Studies show that simply talking to their animals can lower blood pressure and heart rate in pet owners, even lowering blood pressure to below resting rates.[1] A study conducted on stockbrokers on drug therapy and stockbrokers who adopted pets revealed that the pet owners experienced half the stress levels compared to those on drug therapy. [2]

The pandemic generated countless challenges, including stress, anxiety and angst surrounding our physical health. While the quarantines and social distancing policies helped manage the crisis, it inevitably led to isolation and the deprivation of social connections required to maintain a healthy social life. For those suffering from mental health, this time was challenging. Many found solace in the form of their pet companions. Statistics show that 58% of Canadian households own at least one dog or cat. The national dog population was reported to be 7.3 million in 2021, which is expected to grow to 7.6 million by 2025.[3] The emergence of the pandemic has only contributed to the growth of this number, as the limited human interactions and loneliness suffered at the global level has led to many people opening the doors to pet parenting.

Pet-friendly workplaces

Social norms at the workplace post-pandemic have progressed to reflect our values as pet owners. Many nationwide offices are now implementing pet-friendly policies, allowing employees to bring their pets to work providing for build in pet therapy. A study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University indicated that employees who bring their dogs to work accumulate less stress throughout the work day and reported higher levels of job satisfaction. There were noticeable differences between the stress levels of those with and without dogs by their side, with the most stressed-out group being the dog owners that left their pets at home. [4] The study further revealed that the presence of dogs in the workplace increased productivity, reduced stress and improved co-worker relations.

Sexual assault victims and animal assisted therapy

In addition to the benefits experienced by pet owners, research has found that the simple presence of a pet in the office can be of value to professionals who work with survivors of sexual assault by providing animal-assisted therapy.

Survivors of sexual assault and abuse often endure posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amongst other mental health issues, as a result of their trauma. While discussing the events surrounding the assault is crucial in acquiring medical, psychological, and legal assistance, doing so can naturally cause the survivor to feel like they are reliving their trauma. Research has shown that survivors especially feel intimidated when reliving their trauma in the presence of a relative stranger. Having an animal in the room appears less threatening and more empathetic, thus creating a comfortable environment for survivors.

Professionals seeking to build a rapport with their clients can quickly do so by having an animal present. Animals have been deemed "instant ice-breakers" and can aid in building positive alliances swiftly.[5] "Evolutionarily, humans have learned to judge the safety of an environment by the amount of anxiety exhibited by animals."[6] Thus, having a calm animal in the room will allow the survivor to trust the office and the professional.

The evolutionary interdependence between humans and animals positively affects pets and owners. In particular, pet ownership's psychological benefits and alleviation of stress and anxiety remain remarkable. Professionals seeking to create a comfortable environment for their clients who have PTSD can do so simply by having animals in the office.


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