Mental Health, Therapy, Toolkit

The Healing Power of Pets

Let me give you a heads up before we get into the topic of this blog. If you are not an animal lover, you may initially shy away from this topic. After all, pets can be messy, expensive, and time-consuming. But I welcome you to keep reading, to get another perspective on the benefits of pet ownership.

Animal lovers, you are in your element, and much of this information may validate what you have already learned from having pets in your life.

First, we’re going to talk about the benefits of having a pet. For people who experience depression, anxiety, or other challenges, a pet with whom you have a bond can change your life for the better. Most people probably automatically think of dogs when they think of companion animals, but cats, parrots, rabbits – virtually any other pet can have a positive effect on our emotional wellbeing.

The first images that may come to mind when you think of animals and their effect on our emotional health are of dogs and maybe cats. The truth is,  a huge variety of animals have been shown to have a therapeutic effect on people. From Purdue University’s research using aquariums with brightly colored fish to enhance the attention span of Alzheimers patients, to equine therapy, where individuals find a multitude of benefits from horseback riding, animals have been shown again and again to help people feel better.

I work with a number of clients with both pets and service animals. They often describe deep, mutual bonding which we are then able to use as part of therapy. Feelings of anxiety or sadness, for example, can respond beautifully to an animal’s gentle presence. Petting an animal has shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure for both the person and the animal – in other words, it is truly a mutual exchange.  There is nothing like the loving, unconditional acceptance of a pet.

If you are a pet owner, I am going to ask you to make a special effort this week to spend quality time with your pet. Play with them, spend quiet time together. See how it affects your frame of mind, and how the animal responds as well. I would love to hear your comments below on how it goes. If you are feeling sad or stressed, spend some time petting or brushing your pet. Allow your breathing to slow down in rhythm with theirs.

If you don’t have a pet and it’s not likely you’ll be getting one soon, that’s okay too. Visit a friend with pets or go to the local shelter and give some love to the rescues who are waiting for homes. I have plenty of pets in my house, but I also love parrots. We can’t possibly have a parrot, so from time to time I will go to the bird store and hang out with the cockatoos and African Greys for an hour.  There are ways to incorporate animals into your life even if you can’t have one as a pet. So go for it! See what happens, and let me know in the comment section what your experience is.

A video of this blog is available here:



My pet is the reason I wake up in the morning. I’m not sure I would be able to function during this difficult time in my life if I didn’t have her to pet and snuggle with.


I have had many challenges in my life, both emotionally and physically, in the past decade and the one constant that has not changed has been the love and the needs of my pets. My pets of choice have been parrots. Starting in 2004, when I had recovered sufficiently from breast cancer to be able to care for one, this green ball of love that I named Sara came into my life in the form of a Quaker Parrot. Having always had birds, I was not prepared for this level of intelligence and love. My birds in the past had always brought me pleasure but the interaction with Sara, was different, she looked me dead on in my eyes, she groomed me, being sure that I did not have a stray eyelash, or any at all, left to her own design. But, what started as one, then grew to another, as I soon became aware of parrots in need. Some were, some were not in need, but it became plain that I was in need as well. So, today I love and nurture 9 parrots, over half of which are rescues. My crowning glory is Cass, who is a 45 year old, wild caught African Grey. He was badly abused early on and has never allowed human touch or contact. It has been glorious for me that he chose me, and now lays upside down in my arms and loves me, as I do him. I could go on forever so I will close with this: there are many days, while I have been sick, that they are the reason I get up in the morning. They have scrambled eggs everyday, I bake for them, I groom them, and I just love them and they do the same. They bring sunshine and light, even to the point that if I cry, our other African Grey, Malaika, begins to cry with me which makes me laugh. I can attest that this flock family has rescued me.

Jan Smith

Mozart the beagle wakes up happy everyday. How inspiring!



Even at my lowest, they always remind me how much I am loved.



My dog Bud outlasted 3 relationships. He was better than a boyfriend/husband; he loved me unconditionally. I still miss him and always will.



My dogs love me unconditionally. They WANT to be close to me. The comfort of a dog snuggled up against me while I watch TV or surf the web in the evening is invaluable.


Whenever I was sick or mired in the depths of depression, my kitty Lucretia would always hover close by my side. She knew, and she took it upon herself to be my guardian.


It’s at my lowest that I realize just how positive an influence my pets have on my life. I can get lost in the playfulness of my dog and how much he loves to be with me. He’s such a joy. I have a parrot who chatters at me from across the room watching my every move asking me, “What are you doing?” And saying, “Give me a kiss,” followed by a loud smooching sound. My pets lower my blood pressure, give me a sense of peace and calm, and bring a lot of joy to my life. – I actually prefer my pets to people. LOL



Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University

Furry Friends Can Aid Your Health

Pets Are Loving Support (PALS)


2 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Pets”

  1. I think they hold me together. I’m going through a rough time right now. I was told to find a home for my young female I rescued. I’m fighting it! I have an older dog too and they have bonded, as well as with me. They are my heart! We are a team!

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