Those that have pets will surely agree with what I’m about to talk about. Pets are said to be able to improve your mental health! So those of you who do not have a pet should go out and buy one, right? Let’s find out.
The Huffington post lists a dozen reasons how a pet can improve your mental health. For example, petting them can reduce stress, and they help reduce loneliness. The reduction in stress from rhythmic petting, is due to when you connect with your pet, oxytocin, a hormone related to anxiety and stress relief is released and helps to reduce blood pressure as well as lower cortisol levels. The explanation behind them reducing loneliness is essentially self explanatory. They are there when you need them.
Is it really true though, that pets can improve mental health? In a research study published on Wiley Online Library, an experiment was done to test the effect of a companion dog on levels of depression and and anxiety in residents living in a long term care facility. For the study the used sixteen residents, 8 men and 8 women. They randomly assigned the residents into a control group and an experimental group that would experience Animal Assisted Activity once a week for six weeks. To determine the results, they used the Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventory to pre and post experiment.
From this experiment they were able to discover that the difference in depression levels in the Animal Assisted Activity group were significant enough to reject the null hypothesis that dogs would have no effect on depression (p=.017). Besides that, however no other statistical differences were found amongst the control group or the anxiety levels of the animal assisted group.
This experiment did have some flaws however. First the sample size was extremely small. Also the sample of people was very specific since they all lived in a long care facility, this experiment would not have been able to provide a general consensus as to whether pets helped everyone or not. Also, confounding variables could have been another issue. Without further research, nothing can really be concluded from this experiment.
In another study posted in the European Journal of integrative Medicine, they found different results. With 12 patients they created a control and experimental group. In this experiment they tested the effect of animal assisted therapy on the anxiety levels in acutely depressed patients. They conducted a pre and post treatment controlled crossover study that used the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to measure the levels within the patients. In conclusion, they were able to conclude that the reduction in anxiety levels in the patients that received animal assisted therapy was statistically significant with a p-value of .016.
Although this study provides different results from the one discussed earlier, the experiment was set up differently. These patients received two sessions of 30 minutes of interaction with a dog and the amount of interaction was allowed to be determined by the patient.
Overall, until more research is done, the true effects of pets on mental health will not be known. I believe that the studies that have been done so far have been extremely weak. They need truly need larger sample sizes. Doing experimental research on 12-16 people is not going to be very useful.
Link to photos: