For Better Mental Health, Experience the Pet Effect | Mental Health America

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For Better Mental Health, Experience the Pet Effect

By Steven Feldman, Executive Director, The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)

MHA Staff and their Furry Friends

Living in today’s fast-paced and interconnected world can be tough on our mental health.

Technological advances like smartphones, high-speed internet and social media make it easier to connect from any distance at any time - this includes distressing news and tragedy in the world around us.

But there’s a way to fight against these daily stressors that has nothing to do with technology, social media or world events.

You may be able to find help right at home in the form of a wet nose or a wagging tail.

You can call it the pet effect.

The Pet Effect, also known as the human-animal bond, is the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that positively impacts the health and well-being of both. Any pet owner will tell you that living with a pet comes with benefits, including constant companionship, love and affection.

It’s also no surprise that 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. People in the presence of animals are healthier too.

In a survey of pet owners, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved because of the pets in their lives.

The field of human-animal bond research is dedicated to studying the health benefits of human-animal interaction.

Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain. Science demonstrates that these biological responses have measurable clinical effects.

Specifically, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.

A 2016 study explored the role of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem and found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support.

Studies have also shown that pets are facilitators of getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.

Feeling lonely? Rather than picking up your phone to check Twitter, you could take Fido out for a walk or to the dog park and possibly meet a neighbor or two along the way.

More of a cat lover? Check out a local cat café and interact with some friendly felines eager for some playtime.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is working to support scientific study of the health benefits of pets.

Over the past four years, HABRI has funded approximately $2 million in research projects all aimed at exploring the benefits of human-animal interaction in three broad categories; child health and development, healthy aging, and mental health and wellness. HABRI Central, HABRI’s online database, houses, classifies and archives research and information on the science of the human-animal bond, and is home to more than 28,000 resources.

As this promising field of research expands, awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership and animal-assisted intervention will continue to grow.

HABRI is proud to partner with Mental Health America to share information and resources on the positive impact of the human-animal bond on mental health.*

I encourage all of you to learn more about HABRI and the pet effect.

Together, we can all experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.

Steven Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). To learn more about HABRI, please visit

* While responsible pet ownership, animal-assisted interventions, or just finding ways to spend more time with companion animals are great ways to support mental health, this information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.

HABRI wants people to be healthy by including pets in their lives, safely and responsibly.


I'm trying to get my University to accept a small breed dog as more than just an emotional support for myself. I had a btain tumor removed so I had a traumatic brain injury, 6 concussions after that, and I just won't do well if the puppy is in my room.
How do I do this? I have 3 doctors on board.
Thank you
Summer Abruzere

Hi Summer,

I highly recommend reaching out to HABRI's staff to discuss the prospect of working with your University's administration to implement an emotional support animal program or to amend existing policy. You can contact them here:

Jake and Sam are my two shelter dogs. Jake is a Dachshund/Beagle mix. Sam (short for Samantha) is my Lab/Shepherd mix. They have been the best therapy along my journey. Whether it is taking a walk, snuggling on the couch, sleeping in the bed, taking care of them or each one taking their turns sitting next to me on the couch with my laptop while I hammer out a blog.

There have been times when Sam will see me crying and she will sit at my feet. Or the best, she will scoot up next to me on the couch and lick the salty tears off my cheeks.

I have always felt loved and understood to my core with them. My husband is great, but sometimes his love is faulty or the many years he did not attempt to understand me. If I got stranded on a far away island, I would want Jake and Sam with me.

There is no love unbounded like ‘The Pet Effect’. This love is free from ego and is one that doesn’t diminish with time! I’ve got a cat and she’s changed the way I look at the World. Before her, I hardly remember ever using the words ‘love’, ‘sweetheart’ or ‘princess’ frequently. My mind just allows me to be calmer, nicer and more loving when I am around her. I guess that’s changed how I conduct myself as a person too, one that’s more composed, sensitive and social than when I led a streamline, digitally oriented life of my own.

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