You might have heard of emotional support animals, but in case you haven't, an emotional support animal is a pet that is prescribed to provide emotional support for someone who is in need of continuous assistance throughout the day. This support animal is often a dog, but cats or other animals and may also be used to assist people with a range of physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities.
Dogs especially can be great companions and help treat depression, feelings of sadness, and loneliness, and they can help with daily motivation. Dogs can also help put you in a better mood and improve your mental health on a daily basis. Here are some of the ways that dogs improve the mental health and physical wellbeing of their humans.
Dogs accept you no matter what
Dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance. Your dog probably greets you with an excited wiggle every time you come home, whether you’ve been gone for a few minutes or a whole day. To your dog, you are her whole world, and she loves you no matter who you are. She will cuddle you at any time and kiss your face whenever she gets the chance. And the best part is that all she wants in return is your care and affection.
Dogs can alter your mood
Dogs can help change your mood and your behavior. Have you ever been in a bad mood, but then your dog did something sweet that suddenly made you feel better? Dogs can help to calm your nerves, put a smile on your face, or simply make you feel better. Hugging or petting your dog can also be a very effective way to lower stress, ease depression symptoms, and boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, which help you feel better more quickly. The next time you are frustrated, lonely, or sad, spend some quality time with your dog and see if it helps to make you feel better. Chances are it will.
Dogs teach you responsibility
Just like children, dogs need you every single day. When you are with your dog, you don't get a day off from taking care of her. Dogs need us to feed them, let them outside to go to the bathroom, take them on walks, play with them, and so on. According to depression research, having responsibility for something or someone can help improve your mental health. In addition, it can also give you some structure and daily tasks to complete. You can’t spend all day in bed if you have to care for a dog. Having and meeting your responsibilities to your dog can give you a self-esteem boost as well, and having a dog can also provide a sense of purpose and belonging in life when you may have thought you had none.
Dogs distract you
Dogs can be distracting—in a good way. When you are feeling anxious or depressed, a dog can be a good distraction to the way you are feeling. They can do tricks, act goofy, or simply breathe in your face until you pet them. It may also be helpful to watch funny dog or cat videos online (to release mood-improving endorphins) or try to teach your dog a new trick. And if your dog does something cute or entertaining, you can even put it online for other people to enjoy.
Dogs can improve your heart health
Did you know that dogs can promote healing and can even lower your blood pressure? Many studies show the proven healing power of touch for depression. Research shows that a 45-minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and improve immune system functionality. Hugging can also produce extra oxytocin, which lowers stress, your blood pressure, and your heart rate.
Dogs can help in an emergency
Dogs can be trained to help during emergency situations or panic attacks. Dogs can be trained to recognize when an individual is in distress and get help right away. They can also be trained to keep others away from their owner during times of stress. Dogs also generally know when someone is upset or in danger, and they have the instincts to try to help or calm that person down.
Dogs can also be very helpful for older people in retirement homes, people in hospitals who experience depression, and people who experience PTSD, like veterans. In fact, some people with special needs have to trust their dogs with their lives.
Ultimately, considering the many roles dogs play in bettering the health of their people, it isn’t hard to understand how they’ve gained the title of “man’s best friend.” So, if you’re a dog owner who takes care of all your dog’s needs, it may be a good idea to pause and think of the many ways your canine companion takes care of you as well.