Do Pets Help With Depression?

Depression is a silent killer. One of the most prevalent forms of mental illness, depression alone affects 300 million people worldwide. Statistics in the U.S. show that in the past year alone, 16.2 millions adults, or 6.7 percent of the population, have experienced a major depressive episode. That’s a whole lot of us. Added to this is the unfortunate fact that depression is a mental illness with one of the highest mortality rates of all diseases due to its link with suicide, especially in young people. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death of people between the ages of 15 and 34, and the 10th leading cause of death in the country overall.

Scary stuff.

An encouraging aspect of depression is its high rate of success in being treated. In fact, between 80-90 percent of depression cases are able to be successfully treated, which is great news.

There are many treatments for depression, which means that each individual patient may need a different combination of approaches to improve their condition. One of those approaches is relatively new—using therapy animals to relieve symptoms of depression and emotionally support patients who are struggling in their day to day life.

In this article, we explain a little more about what depression is, how exactly pets can help with depression, and the best types of pets to do the job.

Depression: What Is It And How Does It Affect The Brain?

Depression is much more than a bout of sadness. Feeling sad or depressed at times is a normal part of the brain’s activity, which everyone experiences. But when feeling of sadness are accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and continue for long periods of time, interrupting your daily life, it may be due to clinical depression.

Depression is often referred to as a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain, however in reality, it is much more complex than that. Researchers think that depression can be down to a combination of a whole range of factors, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems.

It’s believed that the interaction of a number of these result in the symptoms of depression that a patient experiences. While chemicals in the brain are involved in being responsible for causing depression, it’s not simply a case of low and high. In reality, there are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that are responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.

Each person’s brain chemistry is completely unique, a key reason why treatments must be tailored to individuals.

Depression Treatments

As we mentioned before, there are as many depression treatments as there are patients, and not everything works for everyone. Depression is a serious illness, and if left untreated, it could be life threatening for the person experiencing it. The first step is to see a mental health professional for diagnosis, after which a treatment plan can be developed. The treatments that are used for depression patients fall into the category of either psychological or medical treatments.

Psychological Treatments

A range of therapies are available for depression patients. Some of the most common include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Behavior therapy
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Animal therapy
  • Medical Treatments
  • For those with moderate to severe depression, medication may be required as part of a treatment plan. Those needing medication must have it carefully prescribed and monitored by a professional to ensure there are no unwanted side effects.

Antidepressants

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers and sleeping pills)

Pets and Depression

One of the newest forms of therapy involves using animals to improve mental health. We’ve long known that pets make us feel better, and they are now beginning to gain momentum as a therapy tool. Pets can help to fight depression in a number of ways, from boosting feel good chemicals in our brains, to simply providing love, support and emotional interaction, whenever required.

Pets can help us to feel we have a purpose in life, which can help depression sufferers to overcome feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. The perfect pet to help relieve the symptoms of depression is an animal buddy that we connect with.

The Ultimate Pets to Help Fight Depression

If you or someone close to you is struggling with depression, pet therapy could certainly be a treatment option. The best way to approach this is by speaking with your licensed mental health professional, who can help to advise and assist you on getting an emotional support animal.

There are a range of animals suitable for treating depression, so we’ve put together a handy list that lays out the pros and cons between them.

Dogs

Dogs are the ultimate all-rounders as pets. Dogs are perfect to assist with the symptoms of depression, as they encourage their owners to be active and engaged, but also have the ability to comfort them day-to-day. Dogs may be best suited for someone with mild to moderate depression. Look into an ESA dog today!

Pros

  • Friendly and sociable
  • Highly trainable
  • Travel well
  • Permitted on planes

Cons

  • Require lots of exercise and care
  • Some breeds are high energy and can be overwhelming
  • Need access to outdoors space when owner is not there

Cats

Cats are the purr-fect low key companions. They do not require tons of energy, so are a more manageable pet for those with depression. Due to their relatively low maintenance needs, they are suitable for those suffering mild to severe depression.

Pros

  • Affectionate and calm
  • Able to live happily indoors/in small spaces
  • Do not require intensive exercise
  • Independent

Cons

  • Some cats don’t travel well
  • Depending on breed/personality can be aloof
  • Can cause allergies

Rabbits

These compact little sweeties make lovely companions for those with depression. Their fur is super soft, so patting them and generally hanging out with these small animals is extremely calming and good for improving mood.

Pros

  • Extremely quiet and calm
  • Soothing to pat
  • Excellent for very small spaces
  • Can live indoor or outdoor
  • Great for those who cannot have dogs or cats
  • Shedding is minimal

Cons

  • Delicate and fragile
  • Not good with small children

Pets are a wonderful choice for those with depression, providing a holistic treatment that is safe, natural and ultimately effective. Choosing a pet to suit your lifestyle can have huge positive effects on your life and mental health. A pet that you or a family member connects with could end up being one of the most important parts of treatment for depression.