How Your Pet Can Help Boost Your Mental Health


One benefit of staying home this week? More time with your furry friend. Animals have been shown to improve mental health and even lengthen the lives of those around them. And that isn’t just related to owning a pet, people who work with animals experience the same benefits. Here are the ways it can help, and some ways you can get in on this animal action.

A study on people with mental illness working with farm animals showed improvements in self-efficacy as well as reduced anxiety measures.

This is great news for people who have tried traditional therapies or medications and want some added benefit without having to add to their treatments. This is also great news for those of us with busy lives who may not have time for a traditional pet. You can volunteer to work with animals at the Miami-Dade Humane Society, or seek out volunteer opportunities at places like F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Horse sanctuary, see links to these below.

The ever-popular Emotional Support Animal, though often used to get a pug on a plane, has roots in reality. In a study out of Australia that reviewed highly-trained psychiatric companion animals for those with mental health diagnoses, all of the participants felt positive benefits and reduction of their symptoms. Keep in mind, that here in the U.S. there is no requirement for formal training of an Emotional Support Animal, so be sure you vet any organization claiming to train pets for emotional support. Some of them do a wonderful job of training dogs (and other friendly creatures) for those who suffer from anxiety, PTSD, and depression.

If you already have a pet, who may be a very good boy but not trained in emotional support, how do you make the most of the psychological benefits? First, spend time with them! See if your office will let them come in every so often, let them tag along to brunch, or make a family day at a pet-friendly park. (Bonus this is a free afternoon at one of many parks in Miami Dade). Dedicate more time to their daily walks. Walking outside in fresh air with your pup will compound the positive psychological benefits. The trifecta is to leave your phone at home to help you do as your dog does and stay in the moment. If you have a cat or other critter, dedicate a half an hour of play or cuddle time with them to increase the joy you share together.

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If you are interested in getting a cuddly critter, first consider the amount of time you have and the needs of the animal so you are sure you can commit. Check with your landlord about any restrictions. Talk to your therapist or psychiatrist about whether they feel you would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal before you make a decision if you do have landlord restrictions.

Do some research regarding what personalities each prospective pet has, as well as costs associated, and reflect on what you think would fit your life as well as benefit your mood. Unless you are purchasing a trained companion, I would also discourage you from working with a breeder if at all possible in order to help those pets who need a home in shelters.

Still unsure? Ask if you can petsit for a friend or help out with their pet’s care from time to time and see if it’s for you. No need to commit, but it can’t hurt to try out, and your friend will definitely be grateful for the help.


Sarah Russ, LCSW is a mental health professional in Miami focused on practical, actionable therapeutic strategies for mental well-being in a world of overstimulation and misconceptions about what constitutes true self-care. Sarah received her Master of Social Work from NYU and has been working in mental health for seven years. She specializes in healthy coping strategies and crisis management for those with chronic illnesses, substance use, and anxiety. You can follow her @mentalhealthformillenials or schedule a session with her at Arvon & Associates in Aventura, Doral, or Virtually by calling 305-936-8000.

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