Animals and mental health – World Animal Day

World Animal Day

The 4th of October is World Animal Day. Its aim is to improve the welfare standards for animals across the globe – by raising awareness and increasing education, the hope is for animals to be regarded as sentient beings and always be treated as such.

Animal welfare organisations, community groups, youth clubs, businesses and individuals are encouraged to organise events in celebration of World Animal Day, with a view to highlighting animal issues and making them front-page news in an attempt to influence change. See for more information.

The love provided by animals can have a positive impact on mental health – a review found that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions. Below we take a look at the ways in which having a pet can benefit mental wellbeing.

Emotional support

Pets are wonderful sources for providing emotional support – they can have a calming presence and provide unconditional love and affection without judgement. This has been seen in the increase of emotional support animals in recent years.

A study found that owning a dog may assist with some psychological distress – veterans with PTSD reported that since adopting a dog, they had seen improvements including feeling calmer, less depressed and less worried about both their and their family’s safety.

Other research has found that owning a pet can enhance quality of life for people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and can be beneficial for those suffering from mental health conditions, for example helping to manage anxiety attacks.

Pets can often respond intuitively to their owners – particularly in response to symptoms, which makes them ideal in supporting people with mental and/or physical problems. One study found that pets can provide: distraction from distressing symptoms, security (due to the certainty that their pets would be there in times of need) and therapeutic support.

Reducing loneliness

A great way to reduce feelings of loneliness is to experience the love of a pet. They provide constant companionship and a sense of empathy – people feel that they can talk to their pets, who will listen without interruption. Pets can act as family, which is particularly beneficial for those who are lacking in social connections.

Research has found that during lockdown (March-June 2020), pets were linked to better mental health and reduced loneliness. Another study suggests that pets can reduce loneliness in older adults living alone, demonstrating that pet owners were 36% less likely to report loneliness than non-pet owners.

Some people find it easier to socialise with other people if their pet is present, and emotional support animals have the potential to encourage social interaction. People who have a dog could find that walking their pet initiates communication with others which wouldn’t necessarily have occurred if the dog wasn’t present. Pets can therefore help with meeting new people and increase confidence when talking to others.


Routines can be beneficial for mental health – they can lower stress, help to manage anxiety and improve focus. Caring for a pet means that the owner has to establish a routine (for example, feeding, walking etc.), which helps to create a sense of purpose and control by adding structure to the day. Some people feel that their pet gives their lives meaning and a reason to look to the future.

For people who own a dog, at least one daily walk will likely form part of their routine. This facilitates behaviour which improves wellbeing, as both exercise and contact with nature have beneficial effects. Exercise can improve self-esteem, mood, cognitive function and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Thanks to Abie, our Manchester Practitioner for writing this blog post.

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