Recently I learned about new technology that has led to the development of the therapeutic baby seal robot, Paro. This little guy is adorable, but more importantly, he is interactive and helps many senior citizens and people of all ages all over the world overcome social isolation, improve brain function, increase motivation, decrease symptoms of depression, and decrease stress. This seal robot is super soft and covered in fur, like a real dog or cat, but is not an actual furry living pet. The owner of a Paro seal would not have to feed or walk this pet, so what is it that makes pets, or in this case, robots, so helpful to humans’ mental health? This made me wonder…do dogs and cats make the best pets, or can other less furry, lower-maintenance pets have the same positive effects on people.
After doing some research, it seems that finding the right fit for each lifestyle is crucial. The individual goal(s) for pet ownership has to be considered. Is a potential pet owner looking for physical touch, quality time, purpose, motivation, etc. If, for instance, you are severely depressed and you get a puppy that is hyper and needs to go outside frequently, this could feel overwhelming, and maybe you aren’t up for all of this just yet. However, if the pet owner’s goal is to be more social and increase physical activity, this option offers a companion who is always there, and could be motivation to get moving, go outdoors, engage in physical exercise, and perhaps even socialization with other dog owners.
In my research I found that the responsibility itself of owning a pet could provide new meaning and purpose to those who have one. Therefore, simply having a goldfish and having to feed it every day or two, and cleaning out its bowl every once in a while could be a good stepping stone in pet ownership. While you can’t cuddle with the fish, it is building that sense of responsibility, and watching a fish has been shown to decrease tension and lower pulse.
With this being said, cats and dogs are preferred oftentimes in people suffering from mental illness like anxiety or depression because of the affection and physical interactions the require. The petting, cuddling, and scratching behind the ears all offer that physical touch that we all can benefit from, however with the commitment needed for a dog or cat, this may not be the best option for someone who is not available for this commitment. Birds cost less to maintain typically on a yearly basis, and have also been shown to improve mood, and even show affection toward their owners.
Before you decide you’re getting a puppy or kitten, first ask yourself what your goals are for getting a pet so you can ensure the right fit!
More on Paro: http://www.parorobots.com/
Sources: Paro Robots, US, Web MD, Animal Planet, CDC.gov