BOUNTIFUL -- Studies indicate that having pets helps patients with a variety of physical complaints from high blood pressure to relaxing muscle tension.
But having pets may also help with mental health issues as well, diminishing depression and anxiety, an area therapist believes.
"What we see is that caring for pets contributes to a person's overall well-being and that people feel better and do more if they have someone to care for," said Lara Deveraux, a therapist with Davis Behavioral Health.
In her practice, Deveraux has noted a lowering of anxiety in people who have pets.Caring for pets also often helps with depression.
"Caring for pets can elevate levels of seratonin," Deveraux said. Seratonin is the chemical anti-depressants work on, she explained, and is often associated with happiness.
She's also found that caring for pets can often help children who have been diagnosed with autism.
"Playing with dogs and cats can often help people who have difficulty relating to other people," she said, because they offer unconditional love, companionship and compassion.
Caring for pets can also help boost a person's mental outlook.
"Depression can immobilize people," Deveraux said. But seeing to a pet's needs teaches nurturing skills, helps build self-esteem and requires the person to fulfill the animal's needs everyday.
"There's a sense they're (the pet) counting on me, so you have to be up and doing things," Deveraux said. Often, the very act of engaging in activities can help brighten a person's outlook, she said.
Medical research has shown that when older individuals are encouraged to care for pets on a daily basis, their mobility often improves, and that can help their emotional outlook as well,Deveraux said.
From a physical perspective, even petting a dog or cat has been shown to lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate, relax muscle tension and regulate breathing, all signs of reduced stress levels, according to webmd that cited two studies done 30 years ago.It may also help boost immune levels.
All these things can help build a healthier mental outlook, Deveraux said.
"If you feel better (physically), it helps with depression,” she said.