Animals have always been an important part of my life.  When I’m dealing with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, being around a pet keeps me focused and has a calming influence on me.  Now I know why – research has proven that animals are good medicine, and their presence is better than anything I could get out of a pill bottle.

About 70% of households in the United States own a pet. And over 80% of people who own a cat, dog or other type of animal believe that their pets bring them happiness and support them emotionally. In addition, most of these people say that their pets reduce anxiety, depression and stress. Animals can change your life for the better.

Owning a pet doesn’t just help your mental health – pet owners are also physically healthier. We have lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health.  And, because people who have pets are less lonely, we’re less likely to develop chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and obesity.

For me, pets have been a lifesaver. They’ve improved my moods, even when I’m feeling really down. But, although pets keep us healthier, they can’t totally replace medical treatment.  My dog Puma was with me on the day that I drove up into the canyons, took out my gun, put it to my head and pulled the trigger.  I guess that God wasn’t ready for me to die, because the bullet didn’t fire.  My life was spared, and Puma was with me during the long drive back down the canyon. As I recovered from that terrible day, Puma was by my side, helping me get back to normal.

One in four people suffer with mental health disorders, and many of these individuals suffer in silence. It’s important to get treatment, as I have, but it’s also good to know that our four-legged friends – dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals – can help us to cope along the way, simply by offering us unconditional acceptance and love.  As a pet owner, I highly recommend this great form of “treatment.” At the very least, your pet will keep you smiling and, hopefully, keep you mentally healthier at the same time.