Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the US, affecting over 18 percent of the population according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Everyone experiences anxiety in some form, those without an anxiety disorder feel situational anxiety, spurred by stressful or nerve-wracking events like giving a speech or going on a first date. Some people experience clinical anxiety, like generalized anxiety disorder or social phobias.
Many therapists and other mental health professionals recommend those with anxiety get a pet. Learn more about the best pets for anxiety. You can also read more here about what the process entails, what the requirements are, and what to expect when getting a service dog for anxiety.
Dogs are social creatures known for their loyalty and happy-go-lucky attitude. They’re full of positivity and want to please their owners (most of the time). Dogs are great pets for those with anxiety if they have the time to commit to having a dog. They’re an active pet that needs lots of attention and exercise. Dogs are great companion animals for those with anxiety. Some breeds are naturally calmer than others. Those who have a social phobia anxiety disorder may want a breed that is naturally more sociable and active, to encourage meeting new people and getting outside.
Compared to dogs, cats are a lower-maintenance pet. They are often happy to be indoors most of the time, not needing to go outside for walks or to use the bathroom. Cats are also more tolerant of being left home alone and are better suited for apartment living. They help their owners to feel comforted and less lonely, which is important when you have anxiety. Cats are common emotional support animals for people with anxiety disorders, learn more about the best large cat breeds for anxiety.
Cats and dogs require more commitment and space compared to smaller animals like a rabbit, guinea pig, sugar glider, or ferret. While you can train these pets to roam the house freely and use a litter box, many people choose to keep them in a cage when they’re not home. Small furry pets help to reduce stress and anxiety naturally. When you cuddle or play with your pet, the body releases oxytocin, the love hormone, which is a natural antidepressant. The levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, decrease. Cortisol is responsible for the fight or flight response associated with anxiety.
ESAs for Anxiety
If you have a diagnosed (or diagnosable) anxiety disorder and have a pet that helps improve your mental health and well-being, they may be eligible to become an emotional support animal. You can talk to your therapists or doctor about making your pet an emotional support animal. If you are not currently in treatment, start by taking the Certapet 5 Minute Pre-Screening to see if you have a qualifying condition and connect with a licensed mental health professional practicing in your area.
Pets are important for mental health, especially for those with anxiety. If you think a pet can help your anxiety, go to your local shelter. There are cats, dogs, and other small animals looking for their forever homes. If you have a specific breed in mind, check the local breed rescue groups in your area.