The Mental, Physical, Social and Emotional Health Benefits of Animal Adoption

australian shepherd dog walking on a leash

About 9 months ago, I unexpectedly adopted an Australian Shepherd after my first dog of 12 years passed away on Valentine’s Day. My first dog – Muffin, a Pug mix – was a Valentine’s Day gift from my dad who passed away during Covid, so when she passed away on Valentine’s Day, the shock I felt from this particular grief was worse than anything I’d ever felt and was excruciatingly painful for my mental and emotional health.

A few months later, my friend’s mom passed away – she was an animal lover and had several pets of her own. When I asked what would happen to her animals, I was told that they were asking friends and family if anyone was interested. Before I knew what I was saying, the words “I might be interested,” spilled out of my mouth.

Later that night, I visited with Honey Bear, an Australian Shepherd mix, and we went on a walk together. I could sense her grief and pain just by looking at her eyes and feeling her pulling on the leash when we walked and thought to myself, “If I end up adopting Honey, this dog is going to teach me patience.” Although I hesitated initially and waivered back and forth for a few days, I knew that she was mine. We instantly – and without words – connected over our grief, and that unspoken communication between human and animals plays a huge role in healthy mental and emotional states. 3 days later, I picked her up, and the rest is history!

Honey has taught me much more than patience. She’s taught me the importance of not only understanding her needs by observing her behavior, but also meeting them with action – otherwise, she will very directly tell me she’s bored. For example, she will incessantly lick her paws until they are pink, which drives me nuts, but this behavior is direct feedback that she needs more mental stimulation. This leads to more bonding time together, and the more time we spend together, the more my mental and emotional health increases.

A Harvard Magazine article, titled The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet, states that an added benefit of spending time with your animal – dog or otherwise – is that it releases hormones that make us feel good. Dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin are released, which make us feel happy and reduce stress, and in turn, we continue to spend time with our animals. The cycle of health and wellness perpetuates itself by caring for animals.

Additionally, Honey needs a lot of social and physical activity, so I make sure she gets out to the dog park a few times a week. Hilariously, she is an extrovert whereas I am an introvert, so I can take her to parties where she is the center of attention, while I mingle one on one. As a byproduct of our long walks and dog-park visits, I have met many new neighbors and am seeing more of my community and surrounding areas, which has expanded my social circle. I am also getting plenty of steps in, which aids in earning my Vitality points! Honey is also extremely sensitive to my mental and emotional health. She knows when something is wrong and comforts me in my emotional distress.

While I was hesitant about Honey initially, taking the chance to adopt her paid off. I’ve grown in more ways than I can imagine, all while helping a good friend. If you’re not quite ready for the full-time responsibility of caring for a pet, try helping out a neighbor by offering to pet sit, taking a friend’s dog on a walk or volunteering at your local pet shelter. Even a little time spent with pets will leave you feeling rewarded!

Mary DelGrande, MSHM, is a Technical Account Manager with Vitality, and just completed a double Master’s program in Healthcare Management from Indiana University, Bloomington. She is a dog mom, loves drinking copious amounts of espresso coffee, playing tennis on the lakefront, and solo international traveling.

Ready to receive the latest in health industry news, tips and trends?

Sign up and we’ll deliver helpful, interesting content right to your inbox.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Request a demo

Learn how Vitality can help.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.