Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

The health benefits of pet ownership

Coming home to a fur baby or animal companion can feel like coming home to unconditional love. And the effects of such affection can be felt in the mind, body, and soul. While pet owners have long touted the many benefits of living with non-human family members, the scientific world is just starting to explore the benefits of owning a pet—the connections they've discovered have been deep and powerful.

4
 minute read
Last updated on 
May 31, 2023
Person with a pet dog
In this article

The positive effects of pet ownership on mental health

The effects of pet ownership on human health can be incredibly healing. It's long been understood that human-animal interactions, as simple as spending time with one—and especially petting one—can help lower cortisol levels, the chemical responsible for the feeling of stress.1 This same action can also release dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals that create feelings of love and contentment. (2)

These are just some reasons why therapy dogs and other therapy animals have been used to help people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, and severe physical illnesses. The companionship of an animal and the effects of pet ownership can do so much good for overall mental health.3

Various studies over the years have found pet ownership helped people better manage their emotions and feel higher levels of life satisfaction and resilience and lower levels of depressive thoughts. Indeed, the potential for a pet to add to someone's quality of life is so profound that even the National Institute of Health (NIH) looked into the matter over the course of an extensive, 10-year study.1

Learn how Within has revolutionized eating disorder treatment, making it more accessible than ever. No matter where you are, help is available—we're here for you.

According to their findings, forging a relationship with an animal can also reduce feelings of loneliness, increase feelings of comfort and support, and generally boost someone's mood, all of which are helpful in eating disorder recovery.1 One scientist theorized that this might be because a pet's behavior mirrors a mindfulness practice, including:1

  • Awareness
  • Compassion
  • Intention
  • Attention

A pet's way of being in the present moment, for example, of sitting with someone who may be struggling and simply being there, exuding love, can even be a subconscious example of how we hope to be treated.

Additional health benefits of pet ownership

Pets provide additional benefits beyond even boosting mental health.

Depending on the type of animal being cared for, the pet owner's role can also invite opportunities for exercising and mindful movement, especially for those needing to walk dogs. This may help explain—but not completely account for—the fact that pet owners of all stripes regularly have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners and lower levels of triglyceride and cholesterol in their blood.2

For older people, these bonuses can be especially beneficial, with pet owners age 65 or over reportedly making 30% fewer non-preventative care visits to their doctors.2

And having a walkable pet—especially a dog—can also act as an excellent reason to leave the house and get some fresh air every day, and serve as an opening for more socializing or a way to meet new friends. But it's not just dog owners reaping the benefits; other pets also provide positive health effects and can help reduce various health risks.

Having companion animals of any type has been found to have a positive impact across the board—sometimes in unexpected ways.

One trial, conducted as part of the NIH study, followed a group of teenagers with type I diabetes. The group was charged with caring for a pet fish—specifically, feeding it once daily, checking water levels twice a day, and cleaning the tank weekly. By the study's end, compared to a control group, these teens were far more attentive about checking their glucose levels—a crucial aspect of living with type I diabetes.1

Pet ownership: what to consider

While the mental health benefits and other positive effects of pet ownership on human health can be incredibly fulfilling, it's important to understand the gravity of taking in and caring for an animal. Adopting a pet can be an incredibly rewarding and healing experience for someone in eating disorder recovery—the human-animal bond is real—but there are some things to remember before adopting. 

Dog ownership can help with many mental health conditions, but it's important to consider whether you can take care of a dog first.

Before bringing a pet home with you, it's essential to take into account some important considerations, including the:

  • Cost of caring for an animal
  • Time and attention an animal needs
  • Impact on your schedule and social life
  • Impact on your living environment (rugs and furniture that may be destroyed)
  • Increased difficulty in finding pet-friendly housing
  • Additional support systems that can help in their care

It would also be good to research different animal shelters in your area. Unfortunately, not all shelters are created equal, and many entail less-than-humane conditions.

Still, if you've done your homework and feel ready, pet ownership can be a beautiful journey, welcoming a new member into the family and sharing—and expanding—the love in your life.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. National Institute of Health. (2018, February). The Power of Pets: Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions. Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  2. University of New Mexico. (n.d.). Mood-boosting power of dogs. Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2012, December 31). Dogs and PTSD. PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved April 4, 2023.

FAQs

Further reading

Binge eating recovery

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, characterized by...

ARFID treatment at home

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a common eating disorder, though not widely understood...

How to treat eating disorders at home

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect millions of people around the world. In...

Bulimia treatment at home

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging, with these...

Anorexia home treatment

Treating anorexia nervosa (AN) is often a tricky prospect. While weight restoration and recovery from this...

Eating disorder support groups: Finding healing in community

Eating disorders like binge eating disorder (BED), anorexia nervosa (AN), and bulimia nervosa (BN), can be...

Comparing the different levels of care in eating disorder treatment

While all eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, eating disorder symptoms may present at...

Bulimia self-help recovery

Like other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa (BN) has the power to significantly affect a person’s life and...

10 ways to be gentle with yourself during eating disorder recovery

Eating disorder behaviors are often characterized by profound shame, guilt, and isolation. Eating disorder...

Overcoming food aversion

Food aversion is an intense dislike of a particular food. People may experience this emotion with foods...

How to choose the best eating disorder treatment program for your needs

When it comes to choosing an eating disorder treatment program, people’s specific needs may vary. A program...

Practicing mindfulness and mindful eating

The practice of mindfulness originated through Buddhist meditation, but its introduction into Western...

The health benefits of pet ownership

Coming home to a fur baby or animal companion can feel like coming home to unconditional love. And the...

How chanting helps with meaningful living

Chanting is a type of meditation that has been part of human behavior for thousands of years, practiced by...

Meditation and eating disorder recovery

Practicing meditation can help with internal healing by offering the opportunity to bring mind, body, and...

How yoga can improve mental health & help with eating disorder recovery

Practiced for thousands of years, yoga has long been heralded for its potential to improve mental, physical...

Eating disorder recovery and meaningful living

Eating disorder recovery is an incredibly personal and vulnerable journey, and everyone’s process may look...

The importance of intersectionality in eating disorder treatment and research

Eating disorders affect people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, cultures, weights, sizes, and...

Therapy for eating disorders

Overcoming an eating disorder can be a long and challenging journey. But there are many types of therapy...

Learn about eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can impact all aspects of someone's physical...

Aftercare for eating disorders

When you approach the end of your residential or partial hospital program...

How to find a therapist for eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) are...

Helpful interventions for eating disorders

If you suspect your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it can...

Trauma-informed care for eating disorders

There is a strong link between eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa...

Benefits of group therapy for eating disorders

Group therapy, sometimes called group psychotherapy, is not a specific type of therapy but rather a term to...

What to look for in a quality eating disorder treatment program

With so many eating disorder treatment programs available today, both...

Exercise addiction treatment & recovery

Exercise addiction is an eating disorder that can do serious damage to the body, with up...

Night eating syndrome treatment

Night eating syndrome (NES) may not be as well-known as other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and...

Treatment of pregorexia, pregnancy-related eating disorders

Pregnancy-related eating disorders, also called pregorexia, encompass any eating disorders...

Orthorexia treatment plan

Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is a serious eating disorder that can be very tricky to detect, as...

Diabulimia treatment & recovery

Diabulimia is a complex eating disorder that involves the deliberate underuse or restriction of insulin in...

Anorexia nervosa treatment therapy options with proven results

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious mental health condition that manifests in a number of physical, mental...

Bulimia treatment therapy plans with proven results

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a dangerous and potentially deadly disorder, affecting someone’s mental, physical...

How to find a binge eating disorder treatment plan

Treatment plans for binge eating disorder (BED)—or other eating disorders and mental health conditions—are...

ARFID treatment: avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves a severely limited...

Self-help and eating disorder treatment

The role of professional help in eating disorder recovery should not be discounted. Disordered eating...

Partial hospitalization programs for eating disorders

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are highly-structured day therapy programs that can be used for...

Intensive outpatient treatment for eating disorders

While all eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, symptoms span a spectrum of severity. To...

Inpatient care for eating disorders

Mental health conditions of all types, including eating disorders, occur on a spectrum of severity...

The essentials of exercise bulimia recovery

Exercise bulimia is not as frequently talked about or as well understood as other eating disorders. But...

Group therapy for eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that have deep impacts on many people. By some...

The role of the care partner in ED recovery

Struggling with an eating disorder can be a lonely and isolating experience...

The importance of community during eating disorder recovery

Often, stories of eating disorder recovery focus on the individual, what they have achieved, and how they...

Further reading

No items found.