By Steven Feldman, Executive Director, The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)
MHA Staff and their Furry Friends
Living in today’s fast-paced and interconnected world can be tough on our mental health.
Technological advances like smartphones, high-speed internet and social media make it easier to connect from any distance at any time - this includes distressing news and tragedy in the world around us.
But there’s a way to fight against these daily stressors that has nothing to do with technology, social media or world events.
You may be able to find help right at home in the form of a wet nose or a wagging tail.
You can call it the pet effect.
The Pet Effect, also known as the human-animal bond, is the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that positively impacts the health and well-being of both. Any pet owner will tell you that living with a pet comes with benefits, including constant companionship, love and affection.
It’s also no surprise that 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. People in the presence of animals are healthier too.
In a survey of pet owners, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved because of the pets in their lives.
The field of human-animal bond research is dedicated to studying the health benefits of human-animal interaction.
Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain. Science demonstrates that these biological responses have measurable clinical effects.
Specifically, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.
A 2016 study explored the role of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem and found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support.
Studies have also shown that pets are facilitators of getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.
Feeling lonely? Rather than picking up your phone to check Twitter, you could take Fido out for a walk or to the dog park and possibly meet a neighbor or two along the way.
More of a cat lover? Check out a local cat café and interact with some friendly felines eager for some playtime.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is working to support scientific study of the health benefits of pets.
Over the past four years, HABRI has funded approximately $2 million in research projects all aimed at exploring the benefits of human-animal interaction in three broad categories; child health and development, healthy aging, and mental health and wellness. HABRI Central, HABRI’s online database, houses, classifies and archives research and information on the science of the human-animal bond, and is home to more than 28,000 resources.
As this promising field of research expands, awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership and animal-assisted intervention will continue to grow.
HABRI is proud to partner with Mental Health America to share information and resources on the positive impact of the human-animal bond on mental health.*
I encourage all of you to learn more about HABRI and the pet effect.
Together, we can all experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.
Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). To learn more about HABRI, please visit habri.org.
* While responsible pet ownership, animal-assisted interventions, or just finding ways to spend more time with companion animals are great ways to support mental health, this information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.
HABRI wants people to be healthy by including pets in their lives, safely and responsibly.