A Student's Best Friend: How Having a Dog in College Improves Mental Health

Having a dog is a lot of work. Whether you buy a puppy or adopt an older dog, they require loads of attention and can cost you an arm and a leg. But wouldn’t it be worth it if it improved your mental health?

According to a 2011-2012 Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors study, 41.6 percent of college students suffer from anxiety, making it the leading health concern among college students and 36.4 percent of college students suffer from depression. Another study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness also found that one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness.

Although owning a dog has not been proven to cure depression or other mental illnesses, it has been proven to help. People who suffer from depression are said to lack a sufficient amount of serotonin in their bodies. Serotonin is a chemical that contributes to wellbeing and happiness. Research shows that when we pet a dog, oxytocin— another chemical associated with good feelings—is released and our levels of the stress hormone cortisol lower. Oxytocin also promotes attachment, which is a large reason why owners become so close to their dogs. This closeness makes you feel needed and this “is a powerful way to re-anchor a person’s place in the world if they’ve been blown off course by the effects of depression, anxiety, or stress”, according to Rover.

Dogs also create a sense of steadiness in your life. There are many days and nights of seemingly endless schoolwork and stress, but having a dog to take care of gives you a chance to take a break from all of that. You can obtain positive energy from having something to take care of and spend time with. Taking your dog on a walk or giving them a quick brush will allow you to take your mind off of the stressful things in your life for a moment and focus on making your dog happy, which in turns makes you happy as well.

Having a dog also promotes exercise, which is known to help fight depression and anxiety as well. Exercise causes the release of more good-feeling chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins aid in fighting off depression and anxiety. No matter what kind of dog you have, they are going to need a sufficient amount of exercise. Exercise makes your dog happy, and that happiness is returned back to you.

A lot of students may feel that they’re not ready to take on the responsibility of a dog. While they do require a lot of money and attention, it will most likely be beneficial to your overall health in the long run. There are lots of other factors to take into consideration before buying or adopting a dog while you’re in college, but an improvement in mental health should definitely be at the top of your “pros” list.