Having a pet can help people better cope with mental disorders such as depression, according to scientists.
A specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) said on Monday that having a companion animal can help people overcome some health problems.
Hugo Sánchez Castillo, an academic from the psychology department at the UNAM, said physical contact with pets affects the production of endorphins, hormones that create positive emotions, which act as powerful analgesics or painkillers.
He explained that having a pet helps older people to have better movement patterns, sense of occupation and general well-being, which results in the activation of their immune system.
They usually have a more effective response if they are taking any type of medication, he added.
However, he said that if a person suffers from depression, although a dog can help overcome it, it is essential that there is a strong bond between them since otherwise, the animal is unlikely to contribute.
A person with depression has a limited experience of pleasure (anhedonia) and interaction with people, so they retract and fall prey to a feeling of loneliness and isolation, feelings of guilt and circulating or repetitive thoughts, he explained.
“Then companion animals can provide a sense of accompaniment,” the expert said.
He stressed that it is still necessary that those affected also undergo psychological therapy and, if necessary, medication.
He said that dogs are also suitable companions for young children, as having a canine friend helps them acquire emotional regulation and interact better with their surroundings.
“But it is not advisable to give them fragile species such as birds or rodents, because due to their lack of fine motor skills they tend to be very rough,” he added.
He explained that other animals such as fish can induce a state of relaxation, but the person responsible for their care should take time to interact contemplatively with them.
“Watching them can stimulate the production of endorphins and cause a calming effect, especially in older adults and lonely people,” he added.
Alberto Tejeda Perea, an academic at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnics, said there is scientific evidence showing that physical contact with a companion animal affects the production of endorphins.
Endorphins act as potent analgesics, stimulate pleasure centers and help eliminate stress, he added.