Pets and Mental Health
Every Wednesday and Sunday I get a call from an older gentleman letting me know that he is OK and his cat Frederick is OK.
Every Wednesday and Sunday I
get a call from an older gentleman letting me know that he
is OK and his cat Frederick is
OK. He calls because he is afraid that if
something happens to him, Frederick
will be alone without food and water for
upwards of a month. He has no visitors
or family to check in on him—or his
beloved pet. He is alone except for his
best friend: Frederick.
As a veterinarian I know firsthand how
much the human-animal bond can help
many conditions, including our mental
health. When you pet a cat or a dog,
your blood pressure goes down. Some
dogs and cats can sense when their
owner is about to have a seizure or when
their blood glucose is elevated and will
direct the owner to sit down so that they
can take their medication, or at least be
safe if they pass out or have a seizure.
Likewise, pets can help reduce the
effects of anxiety and phobias on our
bodies. Pets can help calm an owner so
that he or she can take a bus through
crowds to get to work, or fly across the
country to visit friends and family, or
shop in a noisy store without triggering
post-traumatic stress disorder.
One of my clients has a child with
autism who, after getting a cat, was
finally able to fall asleep to the sound of
the cat purring.
A better night’s rest made it easier for
this child to concentrate in school and at
therapy sessions. And for this child, his
cat is as important as the medication he’s
given daily—even though the kitty wasn’t
trained to provide certain supportive
skills, but simply gives them naturally.
We understand the effect medication
has on our bodies. Insulin reduces blood
glucose, blood pressure medication
lowers blood pressure, anti-seizure
medication minimizes seizures. But it is
harder to quantify the effects a pet has
on our well-being.
Likewise, you never know what
circumstances brought a pet to their
present owner. Sometimes a pet arrives
after a close family member passes away
unexpectedly. This pet then remains the
only connection left to the deceased
person and gives comfort to its owner
just by being there.
For me as a vet, to be able to care for
this pet allows me to indirectly care for
the family, as well.
If you have a pet, you don’t need a
study to tell you that your dog or cat
or bird or whatever improves your wellbeing, and perhaps by extension, your
This past year, the Covid-19 pandemic
has shown the devastating effects isolation has on dementia patients and older
people living alone. No visitors, no connections, no conversations. Older adults
who had a pet to talk to and to care for
during this difficult year experienced at
least a little bit of normalcy.
That’s because pets respond with love and support when there is pain and loneliness.
Marie Louderback (D.V.M. ’07) is a veterinarian at Minnesotans Supporting Companion Animals for Seniors and the Disabled (MnSCASD), a nonprofit clinic she founded to help provide affordable care for the pets of seniors and the disabled. For more information, please go to MnSCASD.org.