Blog: How Pets Help Us Maintain Good Mental Health | HABRI

In the context of the last two challenging years, it has become abundantly clear how essential pets are in our lives. Not only are pet owners spending more time with their pets, but they are also reporting their pets are making positive contributions to their mental health. In fact, a recent survey shows that 87% of pet owners say they have experienced mental health improvements resulting from pet ownership. Sixty-four percent of pet owners have had a conversation with someone in the last year about the health benefits of owning a pet, including discussions with co-workers, friends and family. Twenty-two percent of pet owners, more than one-in-five, have had a pet recommended for their health by a doctor or therapist, indicating that pets are increasingly acknowledged by mental health professionals as important sources of social and emotional support.

In support of Mental Health America and its important work to support good mental health for all Americans, the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has compiled data and information to demonstrate how pets support healthy habits and boost our mental health and wellness.


It’s no secret that incorporating regular exercise into our daily routines benefits our overall well-being. Exercise can improve self-esteem, brain function, and lessen social withdrawal and stress. A small amount of physical movement can make a huge difference in our mental health, and walking with a dog is an exercise that naturally fits into daily routines.

Walking, exercising, or playing with pets is associated with greater happiness and less stress relative to other activities[1]. Dogs can be powerful exercise motivators through regular walks, with one study showing that dog owners walk 22 more minutes per day compared to those without a dog[2].

Research shows that pets can benefit the physical and mental health of children, too, which is imperative with many children failing to meet recommended levels of daily physical activity. Studies show that children from dog-owning households participate in more physical activity than those from non-dog households[3].

Stress Management

We all experience stress as part of life, but chronic stress can negatively impact our long-term health. Understanding basic ways to handle common stressors is critical, and pets can play a role in helping us manage our stress levels. Studies have demonstrated that pet owners recover faster from stressful events than non-pet-owners[4].

In response to the strain that stress creates, our bodies automatically elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, which can be threatening to our health when occurring too often. Interacting with pets has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure[5] [6] and reduce cortisol, a stress-related hormone[7].

Coping Skills

Coping skills are strategies or activities used to moderate difficult situations and feelings. In a manner similar to how breathing exercises, meditation, or calling a friend can help us cope when we start to experience negative feelings, pets can help us develop similar skills. Pets provide a regular routine, offering positive distractions from unwanted thoughts, and instilling a powerful sense of purpose and meaning[8].

Support System

Having a solid support system with other individuals with whom we can engage socially protects our long-term mental health by preventing loneliness and isolation. Beyond being our faithful companions, pets help us connect with others and form lasting relationships. Pets serve as natural icebreakers and easy conversation starters that can help people make new connections in their communities[9]. According to one study, 40% of pet owners reported receiving one or more types of social support from people they met through their pets[10].

Resources on the Human-Animal Bond

HABRI is proud to partner with Mental Health America to raise awareness of the mental health benefits of the human-animal bond. To learn more about the many ways in which pets can help us lead healthier, happier lives, please visit

[1] Kalenkoski, C.M., Korankye, T. Enriching Lives: How Spending Time with Pets is Related to the Experiential Well-Being of Older Americans. Applied Research Quality Life 17, 489–510 (2022)

[2] Dall, P. M., Ellis, S. L. H., Ellis, B. M., Grant, P. M., Colyer, A., Gee, N. R., … & Mills, D. S. (2017). The influence of dog ownership on objective measures of free-living physical activity and sedentary behaviour in community-dwelling older adults: A longitudinal case-controlled study. BMC public health, 17(1), 1-9.

[3] Christian, Hayley E., et al. “Association between preschooler movement behaviours, family dog ownership, dog play and dog walking: Findings from the PLAYCE study.” Preventive Medicine Reports (2022): 101753.

[4] Allen, Karen, Jim Blascovich, and Wendy B. Mendes. “Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: The truth about cats and dogs.” Psychosomatic medicine 64.5 (2002): 727-739.

[5] Levine, G. N., Allen, K., Braun, L. T., Christian, H. E., Friedmann, E., Taubert, K. A., … & Lange, R. A. (2013). Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 127(23), 2353-2363.

[6] Allen, Karen, Jim Blascovich, and Wendy B. Mendes. “Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: The truth about cats and dogs.” Psychosomatic medicine 64.5 (2002): 727-739.

[7] Handlin, L., Hydbring-Sandberg, E., Nilsson, A., Ejdebäck, M., Jansson, A., & Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (2011). Short-term interaction between dogs and their owners: effects on oxytocin, cortisol, insulin and heart rate—an exploratory study. Anthrozoös, 24(3), 301-315.

[8] Brooks, Helen, et al. “Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition.” BMC psychiatry 16.1 (2016): 409.

[9] Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2005). The pet connection: Pets as a conduit for social capital?. Social science & medicine, 61(6), 1159-1173.

[10] Wood, Lisa, et al. “The pet factor-companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation and social support.” PloS one 10.4 (2015): e0122085.