Pets and mental health

Pets bring so many mental health benefits, including many that we don't realise. Just looking after them and doing the basics delivers many improvements to our mental and physical welfare that may go unrecognised.

25th January 2019

Pets bring so many mental health benefits, including many that we might not realise. Just looking after them and spending time in their company is said to improve our mental and physical health, something you might have noticed if you have a cat or dog.

Any pet owner will tell you that there’s nothing better than coming home and being welcomed by a pet who’s been waiting all day for your reunion whether you’re greeted by waggy tails or demanding meows. And that feel-good factor doesn’t just end with that warm and loving hello either, here are just some of the mental health benefits that come with owning a feline friend or canine companion.

Provide a routine

Our pets need regular feeding and exercise to stay healthy. Regardless of the type and frequency of routine you find together, having a structure to your day can help you feel grounded and give you a sense of achievement once everything is done and you can finally sit down for cuddles on the sofa at night!

Sense of purpose

Your pet will look to you for all of their needs and it will force you to be productive and responsible while also increasing your physical activity, even on the worst days. Not only do they provide a sense of purpose but they can be a distraction, too, from any worries or anxieties.

a cat being cuddled

Being sociable

It’s so important for our mental health that we socialise and keep in touch with other humans, even if we think we don’t need to. Our furry friends are on hand to help make sure this happens. Bumping into another dog walker in the park might turn into a twenty-minute conversation about your companions, their breeds and their peeves. Your cat might encourage a conversation with a previously unknown neighbour as it walks your shared fence. Pets are four-legged icebreakers, and these quick chats can be hugely significant for your mental health.

Even joining pet social media pages or groups can give you the chance to meet new people and speak to other owners about all things cat and dog.

Helping with loneliness

From helping break the ice on dog walks or with neighbours to simply cuddling up on the sofa and watching TV in the evenings, our beloved pets offer comfort and company when it’s needed most. Pets listen as you vent, and they don’t judge, they love you as you are. Sometimes, they’re the best kind of therapy.

Pets are someone to share the day with, which is invaluable for owners who might be lonely or isolated, particularly in later life or for those who have experienced loss.

Keep you active

Having a dog means you’re likely to be forced outside every day to make sure they don’t miss out on their walk. Physical activity can actually improve your mental health and can help with:

Sleep – helping to make you feel more tired at the end of the day can support you with getting a better night’s sleep.

Moods – physical activity releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Just a small amount of exercise with your pet will not only make you feel better in yourself, it can also give you energy to get other things done.

Stress or anxiety – doing something physical stimulates the release of certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. Being active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping mechanism. Some studies have also found that just petting your cat or dog can actually help relieve stress without you realising!

How does your pet make you feel?

We asked some of our pet owners across the country about how their cat or dog makes them feel. We wanted to know about the good, the bad and the ugly... but as you can imagine, there were very few negative words to be found in the answers. With so many answers to choose from, we wanted to show some of the most common feelings associated with our furry friends.

a cloud of words relating to pets

Thinking of getting a pet?

Before getting a pet it’s always best to make sure it’s the right time, that your living arrangements are suitable, and that you’d be able to provide the care it needs. Doing research on breeds is so important, too, to make sure you’re well suited. There are plenty of social pages and websites that will be able to provide you with advice on pets and their specific needs, but you’ll also be able to ask friends and family.

More on our dog blog

Read more news articles, opinion pieces, reviews and personal stories behind our dogs on our blog. 


Need dog insurance?

Dog insurance can help cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your dog gets injured or falls ill.


We know pets

Animal Friends Insurance is a multi-award winning FCA-regulated pet insurer, founded in 1998 to provide industry-leading pet insurance and first-class animal care to create a better life for every animal.
As one of the UK’s largest pet insurance providers, Animal Friends works with vets, veterinary professionals, and partners pioneering the latest veterinary technology & healthcare advancements to achieve our vision.
Our policyholders have helped donate over £8.5 million to more than 800 animal charities worldwide and by educating and inspiring others to act on current events and responsible pet ownership, Animal Friends is driving positive change for animal welfare and conservation.