Your Best Friend: How Your Family Pet Can Reduce Anxiety

"Hospitals and classrooms are also beginning to encourage the inclusion of pets because of their ability to help children focus."

Rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, horses, and even crickets have something powerful in common. All have been shown to help people reduce their anxiety and stress. Along with traditional pets such as dogs and cats, science has now shown that having a family pet can reduce anxiety symptoms. A variety of animals can become “man’s best friend,” as the process of caring for and loving an animal itself promotes healing benefits. Hospitals and classrooms are also beginning to encourage the inclusion of pets because of their ability to help children focus.

Prestigious universities have set up institutes to study this phenomenon, such as the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction and the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. While having pets in a hospital setting used to be considered unsanitary, many children’s hospitals—such as Texas Children’s Hospital and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital—are now including animal-assisted therapy to benefit their patients. This is encouraging news to any parents thinking of getting a family pet to benefit their child and reduce their anxiety.

Health Benefits of Pets

Welcoming a family pet into your home is extremely beneficial for numerous reasons. Such as the following:

  • Pets teach children responsibility: Feeding and cleaning up after the pet doesn’t just teach kids to be responsible; it also teaches them how to be more empathetic to others by shifting the focus off of their own needs. 
  • Pets encourage socialization and play time: A study by Harvard shows that pets help to create human-to-human friendships and social support, both of which are beneficial for long-term health.1 Even more, new research has found that children with autism who have a pet at home, have much more advanced social skills and are more assertive and communicative than those who do not have a pet at home2. 
  • Pets create a sense of anxiety-reducing calm: Studies indicate that playing or cuddling with a dog can release the bonding hormone oxytocin, and lower the stress hormone cortisol, reducing anxiety and promoting calmness.3 
  • Family pets provide a way to overcome loneliness: A survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found that 80 percent of pet owners said their pets made them feel less lonely.4 For children with social anxiety, which often exacerbates loneliness, pets have been shown to stimulate conversation, serving as an icebreaker that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect.5
  • have been shown to help children feel calmer and even more outgoing
  • Petting an animal provides sensory stimulation: Touch and movement are two healthy ways to help manage stress. Petting an animal has been shown to lower blood pressure and make you feel calmer.6
  • Walking a dog provides exercise: Researchers have found that people who walk their dogs often are more likely than those who do not to meet the standard exercise recommendation of about 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity.7and increases socialization

Research has shown that pet owners tend to have:8

  • lower heart rates
  • lower blood pressure
  • less heart-disease risk than non-pet owners

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Pet Therapy: How do Pets Help with Anxiety?

For those wondering whether pets help with anxiety, the answer is yes. Although we don’t need science to tell us how a cuddly puppy can cheer up a family member, or that watching a tank of colorful fish can help increase visual focus, science has now shown that those same aquariums can even encourage people to eat healthier. As for mental health benefits, research on “pet therapy” shows that even people who say they don’t like animals feel a reduction in anxiety when petting an animal. Another study showed that children who read to their dogs show a reduction in anxiety (and I’m sure the dogs enjoy the attention, too!).9

Best Pets to Help Manage & Treat Anxiety

While most animals provide comfort and a strong sense of responsibility, there are some that are especially great at reducing anxiety in human beings:

  • The most common pets for reducing anxiety are dogs and cats.10
  • If you or your family members are allergic, or you don’t have room for a dog or a cat, consider a pet that can live in a small cage such as a guinea pig or a hamster.
  • A bird can also make for a great pet and add its song to your home.
  • Small turtles and even crickets are also options to consider since they don’t take up much space.
  • Rabbits make good housemates as well, and some can even be toilet trained!

Deciding Factors of Getting Pet

Before you search for a family pet, take into account time and how it will impact everyone in the family. Some things to consider are who will take care of the pet, and if adding a pet will help a child learn responsibility (or increase anxiety through additional tasks). Consider the needs of the pet. For example, how often will the pet need to be walked or brushed? And will these chores mesh with your family’s schedules? Also, make sure your child is old enough to understand the responsibilities of having a pet. Gently introduce them to the chores involved so they’re not too overwhelmed with new information. 

How to Find Your Ideal Animal

Visiting pet stores is a good way to become acquainted with the types of pets available in your area and to see which ones your family gravitates toward. For dogs and cats, visit the breeder and be sure to inquire about the health and habits of the animal’s parents (and even view them, if possible). Adopting cats and dogs from shelters is another great way to find a wonderful family pet. Whatever pet you decide to get, investigate that animal’s needs as well as your family’s so you can be sure you’ve found a good match.

Key Takeaways  

  • Pets are proven to reduce anxiety in human beings
  • Pets can help children deal with social anxiety and socialize more focus while in class
  • Hospitals are using animal-assisted therapy with children
  • Pets provide a large amount of health benefits (teach children responsibility, socialization, anxiety-reducing, lower heart rates & blood pressure, exercise, etc.)
  • Petting an animal is extremely calming for those with anxiety
  • Overall, best pets for anxiety are cats and dogs. However, there are other options for those with allergies or small living spacesallergic (birds, rabbits, etc.)
  • Before getting a family pet, it is important to make sure the pet will become a priority in the family and his/her needs will be taken care of

If your child is struggling with anxiety on a regular basis, consider taking a non-prescription medication like Brillia. Safe for children five and older, Brillia is a homeopathic anxiety medication designed to reduce anxiety without the use of harsh, synthetic chemicals. Studies indicate that anxiety can stem from an imbalance of the S100B protein, a regulator of many different brain processes, including mood. Brillia’s active ingredient consists of antibodies to the S100B protein, which aids in regulating its activity without any harmful side effects. Brillia works best in tandem with healthy lifestyle choices outlined in the holistic 5- Pillar methodology. This includes following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness techniques.

Learn more about how Brillia works and visit the Brillia blog for more tools and resources on reducing anxiety in your child’s life.

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References:1,2,3 ,4,5, 6 7 ,8, 9 10

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