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Mental Health and Your Pets

How Your Mental Health Impacts Your Pets

Written by Mackenna Hamilton


If someone were to tell you today that your current mood would also become the

mood of those around you – your friends, family, your loved ones – how would

you react? Would you be comforted, knowing you are content with your mental

state, or would it possibly cause some concern? Either way, would it make you

more mindful about your emotions and cause you to take steps to ensure that

you’re feeling well, so that they will feel well? Although our feelings can have an

impact on the people around us, our mental state does not actually become

theirs. The same can’t be said for our pets, as they pick up on some of the most

subtle cues that we give off, and over time the way we feel begins to have an

impact on them.

Here we will take a look at the connection between people and their pets, the

way our mental health can be improved by bringing pets into our lives, how

exactly our mental state can impact theirs, and steps that can be taken to ensure

that both ourselves and our furry friends are feeling our best.

The Human-Animal Connection

There’s no doubt around the joy and companionship that our pets can bring into

our lives, but how often do we think about the impact that we have on their

emotions? Although some will debate that animals aren’t cognitively advanced

enough to feel emotions, most pet owners would argue otherwise. Many people

that have a close bond with their furry friends can tell when they are anxious,

excited, guilty, upset, happy, and more. However, identifying these emotions is

one thing – knowing what causes them is another. It is important to recognize

what makes these moods start up, so that we are able to help prevent any long-

lasting negative moods or stress.

The Pet Benefit

There are many obvious benefits to owning a pet, and a study in the Journal of

Behavioral Medicine went in-depth researching the ways in which owning and

interacting with our pets can lead to lower blood pressure, decreased loneliness,

and overall increased levels of relaxation. On another even more relatable note, a

study from the University of York was done evaluating the effects of the Covid-19

lockdown on people that own pets specifically. Surveys were done that found

especially during isolation, pet owners reported coping better emotionally

because of their pet. It was even found that the type of pet didn’t matter, just

simply the closeness of the bond. Over 90% of study participants claimed that

their pet contributed to their ability to cope with the lockdown, and 96% stated

that one of the main reasons they kept active during it was because of their pet.

Surveys were done that found especially during isolation, pet owners reported coping better emotionally because of their pet

Our Influence on Them

Although the thought of spending time with our pets to improve our mood may

appear beneficial to us, we don’t often consider how our moods can affect our

pets. It may seem like quarantine is good for the animals, because they get to

have us home all the time, but the quality of the time spent together is just as

important to them as the quantity. Spending more time at home may have

initially seemed like it is a good thing for them, but it could potentially be more

damaging if we are struggling mentally and they are picking up on it.

Since their domestication, dogs have fine-tuned their ability to understand us and

react according to how we are feeling. It is known that they can be trained to

sense medical conditions, with sensitivity so refined that they are able to predict

seizures and even pick up on blood sugar levels. So, if they’re able to pick up on

these minute physiological cues, it’s no surprise that they are able to pick up on

even the smallest emotional frequencies.

Our pets may be a large part of our lives, and we can even view them as family,

but we also balance jobs, education, family, friends, relationships, health,

finances, and so much more. This means that our moods and emotions are based on a wide variety of things in our lives. However, for pets, their owners are the

single most important contributors to their life. Pet owners supply physical needs

such as food, water, housing, exercise, and more. They also offer emotional

supports such as providing love, affection, and time. Although all of these things

are able to be provided to our pets consciously, it is important to consider what

we subconsciously provide them with as well, including personality traits and

emotional effects.

National Geographic explained a study in which increased levels of stress in

owners were reflected in the increased stress levels of their dogs. Owners began

by answering a questionnaire about their own personality and mental health, and

how they perceived their pets. Over time, their stress levels were measured, and

changes in the owner were reflected in their pet. To put it frankly, they stated “an

owner with self-reported anxiety could cause chronic stress in their pet.”

However, these changes did not go the other way, meaning the mood of a pet

had no impact on the owner. This could be something to consider when

monitoring our pet’s behavior, as one of the researchers “urges owners to

consider their own behaviors when trying to understand what’s going on in their

pups.” For any concerned pet owners, it may be worthwhile to trace back any

behavioral changes and consider whether or not they could be a contributor.

Over time, their stress levels were measured, and changes in the owner were reflected in their pet

Another study in the Scientific Reports journal backed up these findings,

measuring the stress hormone cortisol in both owners and pets. It also showed

that stress between owners and their dogs was synchronized, meaning that our

stress can be mirrored in our pets. This evidence proves that psychological

changes can be shared between species. They expressed the significance of these

findings, stating “This may be relevant from the perspective of the welfare of dogs

since stress and related health issues are of great concern in today’s human

society.” This suggests that while stress, mental health, and the impact these

things can have on physical health are becoming prioritized in human society, we can now see that our connections with animals can cause it to be just as impactful

on them.

Our pets become a reflection of us, and it is possible for our mental state to

influence theirs. Although animals can gain many positive effects from their

relationships with us, it is not all about gaining resources and attention. They also,

over time, match our personalities and mental states. To offer our pets the most

beneficial relationship, it is important for us to be aware of how our state of mind

can end up impacting them. As Professor Mills from the University of Lincoln

explained in his previously mentioned study on the lockdown’s effect on pet

owners: “This work is particularly important at the current time as it indicates

how having a companion animal in your home can buffer against some of the

psychological stress associated with the lockdown. However, it is important that

everyone appreciates their pet’s needs too, as our other work shows failing to

meet these can have a detrimental effect for both people and their pets.”

To offer our pets the most beneficial relationship, it is important for us to be aware of how our state of mind can end up impacting them.

So, What Can I Do?

Sometimes the best way to take care of someone else, including your pets, is to

first take care of yourself. Things, like keeping hydrated, eating well and regularly,

going for walks outside, proper sleep, regular medical and dental exams, and

enjoying leisure time, are important in reducing stress levels for both our pets and

us. Following a healthy routine can alleviate stress in both humans and animals,

and consistency is the key to ensuring that these needs are being met as often as

they need to.

Being just well enough to provide for our furry friends may be sufficient in

keeping them alive and physically well, but there is a difference between being

alive and thriving. To truly allow our pets to live their best life, we must first make sure we’re putting that effort into ourselves. Maintaining mental health is just as

important as physical health and taking steps to keep yourself healthy will

ultimately affect every other part of your life. Our pets love us unconditionally,

and truly want what is best for us, so for the sake of ourselves, and for our pets, it

is important to take whatever steps we can to be the healthiest versions of

ourselves, inside and out.

Attached at the end of this article is a link to Canada’s mental health services. If

you or a loved one is struggling, be sure to reach out to the mental health services

near you. Your pet may deserve you at your best, but you deserve it for yourself

as well.



Vormbrock, J. K., and J. M. Grossberg. “Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog

interactions.” Journal of behavioral medicine vol. 11,5 (1988): 509-17.


University of York. "Pets linked to maintaining better mental health and reducing loneliness during lockdown, new research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2020. <>.

Sundman, A. S., Van Poucke, E., Svensson Holm, A. C., et al. Long-term stress levels are

synchronized in dogs and their owners. Scientific Reports 9, 7391 (2019).


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