Pets are the best. They give us cuddles and make us laugh. They keep us active and fill our days with cuteness. Pets are also not the best. They require lots of care and attention. Sometimes they’re messy or noisy. And sometimes they get aggressive.
Pets Support Emotional Wellbeing
The costs of pet ownership do not always outweigh the benefits. But there are many benefits of owning a pet, including significant benefits for children’s emotional health.
- Pets provide comfort — in some cases a cozy cuddle, in others a simple, nonjudgmental presence in our lives
- Children can talk with pets about things that are troubling them. One-sided as they are, these types of conversations can help people process difficult thoughts and emotions.
- Pets can help kids become more physically active and more connected with nature, both of which benefit their emotional health.
- Being involved with pet care, even just a little bit, can help children develop empathy and perspective-taking skills, which are positively related to emotional intelligence and wellness.
- Pet companionship can provide a sense of attachment and belonging, which is protective of emotional health, especially for children who have difficulty connecting positively and meaningfully with other humans.
In addition to the general benefits of pet ownership, research has shown specific emotional benefits of animal assisted treatments for people with mental disorders:
- A 2013 systematic review found that animal-assisted interventions helped children and adolescents with ASD increase their social interaction and communication, and decrease their stress and problem behaviors.
- A broader systematic review found that animal assisted interventions were associated with reductions in pain, stress, and anxiety for people of all ages with a variety of mental health conditions.
- A small randomized controlled trial showed that animal assisted therapies can reduce emotional and behavioral symptoms and improve psychological functioning among youth in inpatient mental health treatment programs.
Not a Pet Owner? Lots of options
Though it’s easy to see the various emotional benefits of spending time with animals, pet ownership is not for everyone. If you’re interested in the benefits of spending time with pets, without the burdens of pet ownership, there are other options —
- offer to spend time with a friend or neighbor’s pet
- help your child start a dog-walking service
- volunteer at a local pet shelter.
Even sitting in front of your home making friends with neighborhood cats and dogs as they make their daily tours has emotional benefits. And it may help you get to know some of your neighbors, too.