Approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. are affected by an anxiety disorder each year. This makes anxiety the leading mental illness in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are very treatable, but only 37 % of sufferers receive treatment. One proven treatment for anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions is ownership of pet.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of dread or trepidation about future events. If your anxiousness is extreme to the extent that it lasts for long periods of time and affects your daily life, it is considered an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder. And should be treated as such.

Different types of anxiety include panic disorders, phobias, separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The cause of an anxiety disorder can be one or more of several risk factors which include brain chemistry, personality, genetics (inherited characteristics), and life events.

Anxiety feels different to different people. However, the most common symptoms include:

· Rapid breathing

· Rapid heart rate

· Difficulty in maintaining concentration

· Restlessness

· Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep for a healthy length of time

The Pet Effect: How do Pets Alleviate Anxiety?

Not only are people who spend time with animals happier, they are also healthier! A HABRI (Human Animal Bond Research Institute) study of 2000 pet owners showed that 74 % of pet-owning participants reported an improvement in mental wellbeing. 54 % of pet owners reported improvement in physical health due to owning a pet.

The positive effects of human-animal interaction can be measured in two ways:

1. A subjective decrease in psychological stress such as fear and/or anxiety

2. An increase in oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) levels in the brain

These biological responses have been scientifically proven to show measurable clinical effects.

6 Ways in Which Pets Can Improve Mental Health

1. The physical contact alone, of petting and stroking and hugging or holding an animal, is reported to increase oxytocin levels in the body.

2. Another obvious benefit of owning a pet is the reduction in loneliness. Pets make for great, patient and non-judgmental companions.

3. Interactions with animals reduces the tendency of depressed and anxious people to focus negatively on themselves.

4. Interactions with pets helps those with mental health issues to become more involved in society in non-threatening ways. Walking a dog can also lead to conversations with other dog owners. Being more socially connected and less withdrawn helps to improve mental health.

5. Owning a dog is a great motivator for getting outdoors and being more active. A more active lifestyle is known to improve both physical and mental health

6. Having another living being to care for adds purpose to one’s life. Caring for an animal can create a sense of achievement, making one feel valuable and needed.

What is the Difference Between an ESA, a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog?

Any pet, regardless of training, can be effective at assisting in the reduction of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. With different kinds of training though, dogs can serve different purposes.

1. Emotional Support Dog

An emotional support dog  lives out their purpose purely by being a compassionate companion. An ESA (Emotional Support Animal) is not trained to perform a specific task or tasks. They provide support to one person that suffers from a mental or emotional disability. Any dog or cat can be an ESA. All that you need is an official letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) to state that have you have a mental or emotional condition and that your pet is of integral support.

2. Service Dog

A service dog goes through long (one to two years) and rigorous training to be able to aid an individual suffering from a particular disability. For example, diabetes, PTSD, hearing impairment, visual impairment, or seizures.

3. Therapy Dog

These dogs are trained to provide relief to patients who are chronically ill, disabled, or the elderly. They go with their owners to old age homes, hospices or critical care units. There they will spend a short while with a patient to provide comfort and joy.

The Benefits of Having an ESA to Fight Anxiety!

If you already have a pet, you will be able to attest to the wonderfully uplifting and affirming effect that they can have on your life! If you are thinking of getting an ESA, the benefits are numerous. Their unassuming presence is a great comfort. Just having another living thing to take care of will give your life purpose and meaning.

How to Get an ESA?

Certapet makes getting an ESA easy as pie. Just take the 5-minute pre-screening questionnaire and you could be well on your way to having an ESA pup or kitty in your life!

Which Pets are Best for Anxiety?!

There are a few things to take into consideration when choosing a comfort pet.

1. Size Matters

If you live in a small apartment, a cuddly Newfoundland is perhaps not the best idea. Rather opt for a Basset Hound or a Corgi . If you have a roomy home and a large yard, the Great Pyrenees could be a fantastic option. These dogs are all heart and will make you feel super safe.  Some cat breeds, such as the Savannah Cat or Bengal, love wandering. These cats are suited to homes with bigger yards. Cat breeds that would be content with apartment life include the Ragdoll, American Shorthair and Persian cats.

2. Money Matters

Some dogs and cats, because of grooming requirements or size (read: food intake) or costlier to own. If you have a limited budget, look for a smaller, low-maintenance pet.

3. Time for Training

Another factor that might impact your choice is the type of training that your dog will require. An intelligent dog with a strong working drive (such as a German Shepherd or a Golden Retriever) will require more time and intellectual stimulation than an easy-going canine. For some, this might be a welcome diversion, for others, it might just be too much to deal with. Choose the right fit for you.

4. Age is But a Number

Puppies and kittens are oodles of fun!! But, they come with hours of work too. Puppies and kittens require almost around the clock attention. They require a massive time investment for training and teaching the ways of the world. Sometimes adopting an older dog is a better option.

5. Exercise Requirements

A low-energy, laid back hound such as the Great Dane might sound like the ideal pet for you. But, don’t forget that no matter how easy going, all animals need regular exercise. Even if it is just a leisurely stroll around the block to sniff the smells!

It Doesn’t Have to Have a Fancy Title to be an Awesome Companion

Adopting a pet from a rescue center is a win-win scenario: you need them, and they need you!! Mixed breed dogs and cats have the added advantage of being more resilient to many hereditary health conditions. Generally, they are also less demanding with regards to training and intellectual stimulation.

If you have a specific breed in mind, get in touch with your local breeder’s club for rescue groups of that specific breed. The American Kennel Club has a list of the rescue organizations for different breeds.

Most importantly, is to find the right dog or cat for your situation. One that will ease your anxiety and bring joy to your life, in return for some love and cuddles!

Article submitted by Emily Cline, CertaPet.  contact Emily for more information at [email protected]

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