4Mind4Body: Animal Companionship | Mental Health America

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4Mind4Body: Animal Companionship

The company of animals – whether as pets or service animals — can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to recover from illnesses.

Nearly 70% of U.S. households (84.6 million) own a pet. Of those [1]:

  • 80% believe their pets bring them happiness and emotional support;
  • 55% believe their pets reduce anxiety and depression; and
  • 66% believe their pets relieve stress.


Workplaces that adopt pet-friendly policies can experience benefits like [2]:

  • Attracting more job candidates;
  • Keeping their employees longer;
  • Better employee health; and
  • Increased productivity among workers.


Pet ownership can help:

  • Improve cardiovascular health and physical activity; [3]
  • Decrease stress and lower blood pressure; [4] and
  • Reduce loneliness, which increases risk of many chronic health conditions. [5]


In people with cancer, animal-assisted interventions (i.e. therapy, education, activities) play a role in reducing anxiety, depression and aggression during treatment. [6,7] For people receiving treatment for mental illnesses, animal-assisted interventions reduce anger, anxiety, depression, and general distress, while improving the ability to socialize. [8]
Studies have also shown that animal interactions have the ability to help people who are critically ill by reducing stress, anxiety, and boredom; improving mood; and reducing heart rate and blood pressure. [9] For people being treated for HIV, those who own dogs show fewer symptoms of depression and are better at taking medications—likely because of the routines that come with dog ownership. [10]


The majority of people with diabetes who own Diabetic Alert Dogs are less worried about extreme changes in insulin levels, and experience improved quality of life and the ability to participate in physical activities. [11]

People who are hearing impaired showed long-term reductions in depression after getting a service dog.[12]

Veterans with PTSD reported decreases in depression, social isolation, anxiety, and alcohol abuse, while also reporting improved sleep and better coping with flashbacks after being paired with service dogs. [13,14]

Additionally, service dogs may help lighten the responsibilities of caregivers by assisting those with disabilities to accomplish everyday tasks and alerting to symptoms of chronic health conditions


Mental Health America has created a space where people can learn from each other about what they do to stay well.

Share pics of your pets or other animals in your life and tell us how they impact your health by posting with #4mind4body.

We’ll collect your Twitter and Instagram posts at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/4mind4body. You can also post directly and anonymously to the site if you would like.


If you are taking steps to care for your mind, body, and soul but still feel like you are struggling with your mental health, visit www.mhascreening.org to check your symptoms. It’s free, confidential, and anonymous. Once you have your results, MHA will give you information and help you find tools and resources to feel better.


1 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. https://americanpetproducts.org/pubs_survey.asp

2 Wilkin, Christa L., Paul Fairlie, and Souha R. Ezzedeen. “Who let the dogs in? A look at pet-friendly workplaces.” International Journal of Workplace Health Management 9.1 (2016): 96-109.

3 Levine, Glenn N., et al. “Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.” Circulation 127.23 (2013): 2353-2363.

4 Barker, Sandra B., et al. “Exploratory study of stress-buffering response patterns from interaction with a therapy dog.” Anthrozoös 23.1

(2010): 79-91.

5 Antonacopoulos, Nikolina M. Duvall, and Timothy A. Pychyl .“An Examination of the Potential Role of Pet Ownership, Human Social Sup-port and Pet Attachment in the Psychological Health of  Individuals Living Alone.” Anthrozoös 23, no. 1 (March 2010): 37–54.

6 Orlandi, M., Trangeled, K., Mambrini, A., Tagliani, M., Ferrarini, A., Zanetti, L., Tartarini, R., Pacetti, P., & Cantore, M. (2007). Pet therapy effects on oncological day hospital patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Anticancer Research, 27(6C), 4301-4303.

7 Gagnon, Johanne, et al. “Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program for children with cancer: a descriptive study.” Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal/Revue canadienne de soins infirmiers en oncologie 14.4 (2004): 217-222.

8 Annick Maujean, Christopher A. Pepping & Elizabeth Kendall (2015) A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Animal-As-sisted Therapy on Psychosocial Outcomes, Anthrozoös, 28:1, 23-36

9  Ibid.

10 Muldoon, A., Kuhns, L., Supply, J., Jacobson, K.C., & Garofalo, R. (2017). A web-based study of dog ownership and depression among people living with HIV. Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health 4(4).

11 Gonder-Frederick, Linda, et al. “Diabetic alert dogs: a preliminary survey of current users.” Diabetes Care 36.4 (2013): e47-e47.

12 Wells, D. (2009). The effects of animals on human health and well-being. Journal of Social Issues 65(3):523-543.

13 O’Haire, Marguerite E., and Kerri E. Rodriguez. “Preliminary efficacy of service dogs as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder in military members and veterans.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 86.2 (2018): 179.

14 Rodriguez, Kerri E., et al. “The Effect of a Service Dog on Salivary Cortisol Awakening Response in a Military Population with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Psychoneuroendocrinology (2018).


Special thanks to our partners at the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).

500 Montgomery Street, Suite 820
 Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone (703) 684.7722

Toll Free (800) 969.6642

Fax (703) 684.5968

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