Pets have been found to increase their pet parent’s self-esteem and help improve their social skills. Picture: Supplied

Ask any pet parent what the favourite part of their day is and guaranteed it will be getting home to their beloved dog or cat; always happy to see them, always open to love. 

Pet therapy has become a very real phenomenon using this unconditional love to offer those suffering from depression some much-needed healing.

Dr. Guy Fyvie, Hill’s Pet Nutrition nutritional advisor, says: “There’s evidence that pets can reduce stress, anxiety and depression and in some cases even cure it. People with pets are happier, interact more with others and are less likely to visit the doctor.”  

Pets have been found to increase their pet parent’s self-esteem and help improve their social skills.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says that pets are increasingly being used to assist patients with mental conditions.

Why? Well, pets have an amazing ability to lift our spirits just by being there and are a great source of companionship. Our pets are also very entertaining - their crazy antics and little quirks often have us in stiches. 

Ever wondered why watching pet videos on YouTube, makes you happy? Our pets help us escape our daily stresses, they make us laugh, which in turn releases those feel-good endorphins. Having a pet makes you feel like you have a purpose. 

Walking, feeding, pampering, brushing and playing with a pet will get you up and moving (if not for you, then because your pet needs your attention and care).

Lucy Breytenbach, Animal Science Behaviour & Welfare Canine Behaviour Practitioner from Honey’s Garden, agrees. “Any dog with a sensitive disposition and who is in tune with a human's emotions can be trained to be an emotional support dog. 

"Emotional support dogs respond to changes in their pet parent’s emotional state, such as scratching, nail biting, leg shaking or hair pulling. They may be taught to give cuddles on command and provide emotional comfort. These dogs may be trained to provide comfort to many people and be taken to retirement homes, hospice and children’s homes, among other places”

Training of emotional support dogs involves teaching tasks such as notifying their pet parent when someone is approaching or standing behind them and Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), proven to help lower anxiety. 

The principle behind DPT is to have the dog apply gentle pressure to parts of your body. Training also involves using valuable treats and their everyday diet. “We use Hill’s to feed our dogs as it’s nutritious qualities help to ensure a long, healthy life, which is what we need from our service dogs,” says Breytenbach.