Posted on May 15, 2019

Animal Companionship for Fitness #4Mind4Body

Animals play important roles in many people’s lives. Dogs work as seeing-eye dogs and are trained to detect seizures. Some animals are used in occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical rehabilitation. Aside from these therapeutic roles, animals are also valued for companionship, which can certainly affect the quality of our lives and our mental health.

Other posts in this series: Humor, Spirituality and Religion

Animal Companionship at Home

Dogs and a cat were part of our family for more than 25 years, and yes we did find them sleeping together often. As time went by, we became dependant on their companionship.

Sweetie and Rufus napping together; this puts me to sleep too.

Together they comforted us when we were sad or climbed on to the bed with us when we were ill. They had a sense when we needed them and stayed with us until we felt better.

The dogs were my running companions for decades and then later in life my walking companions nearly every day. And of course, one by one, they got older and together we did less activity.

“Having animals is crucial to winning my fight with depression. They are the first thing to make me smile each day and my reason to get out of bed on days I can’t do it for myself. They are my higher power. The souls that exist outside of myself that I trust to know me completely and love me unconditionally. My judgement-free listeners, and constant companions that genuinely want to see me happy without having to lose any bit of what makes me, me. The fact that they give so much and ask so little motivates me to be a better person for them today than I was yesterday.”

Ashley Alder, UVU Student studying social work

They showed us how to age with dignity, working through their own pain but still active to the end. Now they are gone and there is a gap in our lives. But in our retirement, the pain of their deaths is too much to take on again, so we find ourselves without animal companionship for the first time in our forty-three year marriage and it hurts.

I think we thought we got the animals for our kids, but once they grew up and moved out, our pets were still wonderful companions for us as a couple. Blogging with a dog at your feet is more comforting to me than a warm fire in winter. Reaching down with a hand just to itch and ear or pat on the head, seemed to make me relax and write all the better.

Simba joins in happy birthday song, while Sonny ignores the whole affair

They have all passed on now, but they had a profound impact on each of our four children’s lives and the quality of our family life too. Not a birthday went by that the big, red dog, Simba would join in the singing as we lit and blew out candles.

Most American’s find a similar kind of relationship with their animal friends, and by most American, I mean most. Mental Health America (MHA), reports that nearly 70% of U.S. households (84.6 million) own a pet.1 Of those owners, they write:

  • 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.

Animal Companionship at Work

MHA also claims that pet-friendly workplaces are good for businesses, (well maybe not our cat who loved to sleep on the keyboard).

Workplaces that adopt pet-friendly policies and allow animal companionships at work can experience benefits like2

Pet-friendly companies with open door policies that let dog owners to take their dogs to work often cite benefits such as a stress relief as one of the reasons for allowing dogs in the office. Some also highlight that dogs at work help employees break the ice during tense meetings and encourage more friendly socializing in the office.

Fortune, 10 Pet-Friendly Companies Where It’s Always Take Your Dog to Work Day
  • Attracting more job candidates;
  • Keeping their employees longer;
  • Better employee health; and
  • Increased productivity among workers.

For example, WorkDay, a human resource (HR) software company says dogs at work can “keep the mood light.” They even offer “financial assistance to employees looking to adopt a shelter dog.”

In another example, Salesforce, a San Francisco-based provider of cloud-based software, has some very dog-friendly policies. Fortune reports, “Puppyforce, the company’s official pet policy, lets up to six employees book a special room outfitted with everything dogs and their owners could want for a comfortable day at the office, including soundproofed walls, water bowls, padded cages, dog beds, and cleaning wipes. Additionally, Salesforce also provides employees with pet insurance discounts, dog walking, pet supplies, and vet house calls.”

What Does Science Say About Animal Companionships and Health?

  • Improved cardiovascular health and physical activity. In a scientific statement from the American Heart Association, they recommend, “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.” 3 
  • Decrease stress and lower blood pressure. In a study made by Sandra Barker where she examined stress-buffering response patterns from interactions with therapy dogs, she concluded, “Positive attitudes toward pets in the total sample of dog owners were associated with decreased levels of self-reported stress.”4
  • Reduce loneliness, which increases the risk of many chronic health conditions. Two researchers, Antonacopoulos and Pychy from the Department of Psychology, at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. wrote. “…studies suggest that, with the possible exception of seniors, pet ownership may be beneficial for the psychological health of individuals living alone.” 5
  • Fewer visits to the doctor. “A study of women in China found that those who were dog owners had fewer doctor visits, took fewer days off sick from work, and exercised more often than non-dog owners. 6

Animal Companionships Help People with Mental and Physical Health Conditions

MHA reports, “In people with cancer, animal-assisted interventions (i.e. therapy, education, activities) play a role in reducing anxiety, depression, and aggression during treatment. 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

The National Center for Health Research, reports, “Researchers have also used animals to temporarily provide companionship to children with health or mental health problems, or elderly people who may not have the energy or resources for a live-in pet. While these studies do not always have consistent results, some positive findings of interacting with a therapy dog include reduced levels of pain and anxiety among hospitalized children and adults, as well as increased focus and interaction among children with autism and other developmental disorders. In nursing home settings, interaction with visiting dogs has led to more social behaviors, more interaction among residents, and less loneliness.”14

Additionally, MHA reports that service dogs may help lighten caregivers responsibilities “by assisting those with disabilities to accomplish everyday tasks and alerting to symptoms of chronic health conditions.”15

Share Your Animal Companionship Experience with #4MIND4BODY

Mental Health America invites you to share pictures of your animal companionships. Tell us how they impact your health by posting with #4mind4body on Twitter and Instagram


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 Headey BW, Fu Na, Zheng R (2008). Pet Dogs Benefit Owners’ Health: A ‘Natural Experiment’ in China. Soc Indic Res. 87:481-493.
7 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; and 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 preli
minary 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.; and 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).
14 Johnson RA (2011). Animal-assisted interventions in health care contexts. In McCardle P, McCune S, Griffin JA & Maholmes V (Eds.), How animals affect us (pp. 183-192). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.
15 Mental Health America (MHA), 4Mind4Body: Animal Companionship

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