Pets and Mental Health

Pets and Mental Health Featured Image

According to a 2016 survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Clinic, “74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership”. Mental health professionals have also noted vast improvements in their patients, thanks to the emotional support of animals. A 2018 review of 17 previous studies, explored the multi-faceted ways in which pets contributed to the work associated with managing a mental health condition, particularly in times of crisis.

A 2014 study also researched how interaction with animals has both direct and indirect benefits to mental health and wellbeing, and argued that animals can play an important role in improving human mental health. They discovered eight common themes in the benefits of animal interaction for mental health; company and comfort, social interaction, social skills and belonging, structure and balance, helping, learning and life skills, sense of achievement, fun and enjoyment, and passionate caring. Playing with a pet can also elevate levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, these are all “feel good” neurochemicals, associated with happiness, love and positive feelings. 

My Mental Health Journey

I’ve always been an animal lover. I’ve also struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. These two truths have been fundamental to who I am as a person, and for me, they are forever linked. My mental health wouldn’t be what it is today without the animals that have left their paw prints on my heart. 

Before My Emotional Support Animal 

I’ve struggled with my mental health since childhood, from recurring night terrors to bullying, often choosing to disassociate through constant reading. I always felt adrift, lacking connection to the world. One thing I was always passionate about was animals. I asked for a dog for every christmas and birthday, though instead I got turtles, fish and hamsters. My first pets may not have been the puppy I dreamed of, but they taught me how to care for something other than myself. I connected with these animals in a way I never connected with people. It sparked an intense love for animals that has become integral to my character, as well as my mental health. 

I didn’t get that dog until I was in college. I was 21 and my mental health was at a low point. My few close friends had all moved on from the city we grew up in, and I was feeling lost and alone. I was missing my classes because I couldn’t get out of bed, I was losing my scholarships because my grades were dropping, I was alienating my family and friends because I didn’t even know how to connect with them anymore. I made no efforts to improve my mental health, because I couldn’t even stir up enough interest to care about getting better. 

Darcy: My ESA

Then came Darcy. One day I drove past a gas station with puppies in a crate, looking for homes, and there she was. Darcy changed everything for me, she was love and joy, suddenly present and tangible in my life. A pet loves you unconditionally, without motive or expectation. Darcy just wanted to be close to me, even when I was sad or tired or escaping into a book. She was just there, my emotional support animal before I knew what that meant. 

Christie and Darcy - Mental Health and Pets

Eventually, taking care of her helped me take better care of myself. I started to get out of bed not for me, but for Darcy, because she needed me. It wasn’t such a chore to live through another day when it was a day with her by my side. I was finding joy was suddenly present in my life, and though I was still going through dark moments, I wasn’t alone in them. I had her officially registered as my Emotional Support Animal, and that’s exactly what she was. Darcy was there for me when I moved away from home and transferred colleges, she was there when my beloved grandmother passed, there as we moved again to New York, and there through all of the ups and downs of my twenties, into my thirties.  

Getting a new ESA

Now I’m 35, and Darcy is no longer with me. She passed in 2019, and it was one of the most difficult times in my life, but I’m still here. I don’t think I would be here today without the love and support she gave me for those 12 years. I had to stick around because she needed me, and in turn she gave me the strength and will to keep living, even after I lost her. Having a dog didn’t cure my depression, but she gave me the support I needed, to be able to care about my own mental health.

 A year after losing Darcy, I felt it was time to bring home a new pet. I knew very well how the love and support of a beloved pet can do wonders for your mental health. Pets are also a great way to deal with grief after the loss of a loved one, and I was struggling without her by my side. I now have a one year old shih tzu named Bennet, who just like Darcy, is there for me every day, to remind me that life is worth getting out of bed for. 

Pet Mental Health

Humans aren’t the only ones who feel depression, anxiety, stress or grief. Pets are living with, and mirroring, our emotions every day. They are greatly affected by our feelings and our habits, and we should be aware of how our negative energy can affect their mental health. We owe it to our pets to take care of their mental health, especially when they are helping us cope with our own struggles. 

“It is our fears, anxiety, and emotions that impact our dogs everyday. It is far more important for us to be well balanced and calm, than teach obedience skills to our dogs. If they are our mirror, then we owe it to them to be the way we would like them to behave.” – Heather Szasz, Professional Dog Trainer, Founder of Happy Owner/Happy Dog

Knowing Darcy was mirroring me and my emotions on a daily basis, I knew I had to take care of myself for her. I also wanted to be sure she was getting the support she needed as well. She experienced severe separation anxiety anytime we were apart. Having used cannabis for my own mental health, I decided to try CBD for Darcy’s separation anxiety. Using CBD Dog Health’s CALM: CBD oil for dogs, I saw amazing results. Darcy was suddenly able to stay calm when I left the house, without shaking or crying. 

bennet calm during thunderstorms - pet mental health

Now Bennet also experiences separation anxiety, as well as noise anxiety and grooming anxiety. I also use CALM CBD Oil for Bennet, and she’s able to sleep through thunderstorms and get groomed without trembling and panting. ​​I’m so grateful I found a way to support my pets’ mental health, the way they support mine. 

Related: Happy Owner/Happy Dog with Heather Szasz

Final Thoughts 

Though the mental health benefits of animal companionship are well documented, getting a dog or another pet is still a big decision. A pet is completely dependent on you, and definitely requires time and money. Especially if you’re considering a puppy, which needs a lot of attention and training in the first year. Consider adopting an older pet from a shelter, if a puppy is not right for your current lifestyle. Some other great options if you’d like the benefits of a pet without the commitment, are to pet sit for friends, offer to walk your neighbor’s dog, or volunteer at your local animal shelter. For me, getting a dog was the best decision I ever made for my mental health, and even if it’s not the right choice for you, I’ve learned there is joy to be found, if we care to look for it. 

 

 

 

About Christie Gonzalez:

christie and bennet - author pic - mental health petsMom of Bennet, a very vocal one-year-old shih-tzu, Christie is a long time animal lover and cannabis advocate. She currently resides in Miami, Fl. 

After losing her ‘heart dog’ Darcy in 2019, Christie knew it was time to learn more about holistic pet wellness and CBD for pet health. Cannabis was already helping her with her own mental health, and she knew animals could benefit as well. So she made a career change, from managing art galleries in NY, and teaching English as a foreign language, to the CBD for pets industry.

Christie received her certification on Cannabis Science & Medicine from the University of Vermont, in order to continue educating people on the amazing benefits of cannabis as medicine. She now shares that knowledge with pet parents as CBD Dog Health’s SEO Manager and Content Editor.