The Healing Power of Pets (Paw Friends) for Mental Well-Being

By Gizem Barutcu

Hello dear readers! Today, I’m going to share with you my experiences with my own dog. to discuss how pets contribute positively to mental health. These days, pets have become an integral part of our society and natural environment. Animals serve not only as pets, but also as helpful companions to those struggling with physical and mental disabilities and illnesses.  

Before describing how my dog has contributed to my own mental health, I would like to share a historical perspective on the therapeutic power of pets. My experiences with my dog have played a large part in my observation of the positive effects of pets on human mental health.

Building on historical perspective and information, I want to focus on the impact of dogs on their owners’ mental health. For this, I wanted to conduct a few primary deep interviews with fellow pet owners, and am excerpting from a transcript below for your appreciation of the phenomenal power of pets today specifically for new immigrants.   

Interview: Effect of Pets on Mental Health with Simal Oztufekci

Interviewee: Simal Oztufekci

Title: Pet Owner Interview

Date: July 26, 2023

Reporter: Hello Simal, today we would like to interview you on the impact of pets on mental health. First of all, I would like to start with your old cat Anchovy. We know that you had to leave him in Turkey and come to Canada. How has Hamsi (her cat’s name) been a support to you, and how did it feel to leave her behind? 

Simal: Hello! Yes Hamsi was a very special cat for me. My time in Turkey was incredibly good for my mental health and socialization. The time I spent with him helped me forget my troubles and have peaceful moments. But when I had to come to Canada as an International student it was really hard to leave him behind. He was like a family member to me and breaking up with him broke my heart. 

Reporter: I see, indeed, pets can be very important to people. How has your mental health changed since you moved to Canada? 

Simal: When I first came to Canada, I realized that my mental health is not what it used to be. Adjusting to a new country and leaving my old order was a challenging process. The absence of Hamsi also affected me, of course. The memories I shared with him were very precious to me and his absence left a void. 

Reporter: I understand that pets can have a really big impact on mental health. I heard you are adopting a new cat in Canada. Can you tell us a little about your new cat? 

Simal: Yes, that’s right. After coming to Canada, I adopted a new cat. From the moment I met my new cat, it added meaning and happiness to my life. Every moment I spend with him fills me with joy. I create a peaceful environment in my home with my new cat and it helps improve my mental health. 

Reporter: Great! We see that pets do indeed have positive effects on people’s mental health. Finally, what advice do you have for pet owners? 

Simal: Having a pet is truly an experience that can add meaning and happiness to your life. However, it is important to be conscious of taking care of them and taking on their responsibilities. Animals offer us unconditional love and support, but they also need care and love. Therefore, I recommend that pet owners be prepared to take on these responsibilities and establish a healthy and happy relationship with animals. 

Reporter: Thank you very much, Simal, for sharing your valuable experiences and opinions with us. It’s good that you’re emphasizing the important impact of pets on people’s mental health. We hope you have happy days with your new cat. 

Simal: Thank you, I really hope so. The time I spend with pets is really valuable to my mental health. I hope others can have these good experiences as well. Thanks! 

Above is Simal’s new cat and below is her old cat Hamsi..Photo by Simal Oztufekci

The Therapeutic Power of Animals as Pets

The first documented use of animals in therapy was seen in 1792 at the York Retreat in England. These animals were used to improve mental behaviour (Macauley & Gutierrez, 2004).

In 1867, livestock and horses were used in the treatment of epilepsy patients in West Germany. In 1942, patients worked with farm animals and received “relaxing” treatment at the U.S. Army Air Corps Conventional Hospital in New York. Later in 1972, Psychotherapist Boris Levinson conducted a survey and found that one-third of New York psychotherapists used pets in treatment. In 1973, the Humane Society’s petmobile program brought animals together with the elderly in nursing homes in Pikes Peak, Colorado. In 1977, Dr. Dean Katcher and Erika Friedmann conducted research on the effects of pets on blood pressure and mortality. In 1980, Delta Society (human-animal focused non-profit non-governmental organization) was established (Morrison, 2007).

Today, pets have been leveraged for support roles in patient-care for many diseases and have become a treatment option for the sick yielding positive results. In some therapies, pet therapy has survived as a complementary and supportive method to improve health and quality of life. In their meta-analysis Ein, Li, and Vickers (2018) examined aimed to use pet therapy (PT) as a method to reduce physiological stress levels (blood pressure) and heart rate. A total of 1,310 participants were included in the study, which included 34 independent samples and 28 articles. It turned out to significantly attenuate the effect of pet therapy (PT) on stress responses. It has been stated that PT can be an effective program to reduce stress reactivity. Pets facilitate social interaction and social networks of their owners. Many studies have shown that pet ownership has strong positive effects on the mental health of the owner (Wood et al., 2005).

Researchers also note that pets have many positive effects on their owners, such as company, companionship, relaxation, motivation, and happiness (Nagengast et al., 1997). In another study, findings suggest that the role of pet ownership may benefit community-dwelling older adults by providing companionship, a sense of purpose and meaning, reducing loneliness, and increasing socialization. These benefits have also been found to increase resilience to mental health disorders, which can positively affect mental health outcomes in older adults (Gan et al., 2020).  Chakma, Islam, Shahjalal, and Mitra (2022) investigated the relationship between pet ownership and depression.

Researchers tested the hypothesis that pet owners are less likely to have depression than non-pet owners. Considering other relevant variables, pet owners were found to be 41% less likely to have depression than non-pet owners, but this result was not statistically significant. However, there is supporting evidence about strong correlations between pet ownership and low depression levels.  

Supportive Friends for Our Mental Well-Being 

The feelings of love, friendship and commitment associated with pets can have significant effects on mental health. Pets are linked to reducing stress and providing a sense of well-being. Interaction with pets strengthens emotional bonds and alleviates feelings of loneliness. Pets can be an effective source of support in coping with stress, anxiety or depression. Spending time with pets can help you relax.

Social Connections and Relationships 

Pets also play an important role in deepening social connections and relationships. Dogs, in particular, can increase human participation in social activities by encouraging their owners to take walks regularly. In addition, interacting with pets strengthens emotional bonds and alleviates feelings of loneliness. However, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of pets on mental health. Although some studies have shown positive results, it has also been observed that the therapeutic effects of pets are not the same nor consistent for everyone. Each individual’s mental health can also be impacted by varying factors like personal differences, living conditions, etc. 

When we analyze the vast experiences of pet owners and scientific research combined, it is possible to better understand the positive effects of pets on mental health. We appreciate the therapeutic power of pets better and can better integrate these experiences into mental health treatments as needed.  


Chakma, S. K., Islam, T. T., Shahjalal, M., & Mitra, D. K. (2022). Depression among pet owners and non-pet owners: A comparative cross-sectional study in Dhaka, Bangladesh [version 2; peer review: 2 approved, 1 approved with reservations]. F1000Research, 10, 574.       

Ein, N., Li, L., & Vickers, K. (2018). The effect of pet therapy on the physiological and subjective stress response: A meta-analysis. Stress and Health, Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/smi.2812        

Gan, G. Z. H., Hill, A.-M., Yeung, P., Keesing, S., & Netto, J. A. (2020). Pet ownership and its influence on mental health in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 24(10), 1605-1612.        

Macauley, BL., Guiterrez, KM. (2004). The effectiveness of hippotherapy for children with language-learning disabilities. Commun Disord Q, 25:205–217.      

Morrison, ML. (2007). Health Benefits of Animal-Assisted Interventions. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12(1):51-62.                   

Nagengast, S. L., Baun, M. M., Megel, M., & Leibowitz, J. M. (1997). The effects of the presence of a companion animal on physiological arousal and behavioral distress in children during a physical examination. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 12(6), 323-330.  

Oztüfekci, S. (2023, July 26). Interview: Effect of Pets on Mental Health [Telephone interview].         Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., & Bulsara, M. (2005). The pet connection: Pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science and Medicine, 61, 1159–1173. doi; 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.01.017     

Gizem Barutcu is a Clinical Psychologist, formerly practicing at The Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants in Ankara, Turkey, before moving to Toronto. She is pursuing her Research Analyst Program at Humber College.

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