Mindfulness is the practice of grounding yourself in the present moment, and it offers a host of benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health—including improved cognitive functioning, lower stress levels, improved immune function, and a greater sense of well-being.
A regular mindfulness practice, where you consciously create opportunities to be mindful throughout the day, can help you reap those benefits. And while there are plenty of tools that can help you practice mindfulness, there’s one tool that can help you be a more mindful person that you might not expect—and that’s your pet.
Let’s take a look at three ways your pets can help with your mindfulness practice—and help you become a more mindful, grounded person in the process.
Pets can make you calmer
It’s hard to be mindful when you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, your heart is racing, or your thoughts are going a thousand miles a minute. Generally, it’s easier to sink into a more mindful place when you’re feeling calm. And if you need to calm down—and calm down quickly—your pet can help.
Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that petting a dog for just 15 minutes can lower blood pressure by 10 percent—while another study from researchers at Washington State University found that just 10 minutes of interacting with dogs and cats can significantly lower cortisol (also known as the stress hormone).
So, if you’re feeling anxious or on edge and want to slip into a more calm, mindful place? Try carving out 10 to 15 minutes of quality petting time with your four-legged friend—and you just may be feeling calmer before you know it.
Pets can encourage you to do more mindful activities
Meditation is certainly a component of mindfulness. But being mindful stretches beyond a meditation practice; it’s about being fully engaged with whatever activity you’re doing. And so, another way pets can help with your mindfulness practice is by encouraging you to engage in more activities—and to do so in a mindful way.
“Pets help their owners be mindful by redirecting them to the present through valued, shared activities,” says Cierra Fisher, a licensed therapist practicing at Healthy Habits Therapy in Charleston, South Carolina. “These activities organically produce a state of mindfulness for owners…because [they] allow for the owner to be in the moment and achieve the necessary awareness to be in a mindful state through the care and attention they are providing their pet.”
For example, let’s say your cat needs a bath. It’s hard to multitask or be thinking about other things when you have a water-averse cat trying to escape your tub. Instead, you’re forced to focus on the task at hand (cleaning your cat before they escape). This grounds you in the present moment, turning bath time into a practice in mindfulness.
Or let’s say you’re in the backyard playing fetch with your dog. If you’re present with what you’re doing and fully enjoying the experience (and how could you not, when your pup looks so cute bringing the ball back?), it’s not just a game of fetch anymore; it’s a part of your mindfulness practice.
The point is, this view of a mindfulness practice is simply that it’s the practice of being fully engaged with what you’re doing—and pets offer a huge variety of activities where you can practice that active engagement and presence.
Pets can show you what mindfulness looks like
If you want to become more mindful, surrounding yourself with examples of mindfulness in action is a good place to start. “When you’re with another who’s mindful, simply being in their presence helps you to become more mindful”, says mindfulness trainer and author Joy Rains.
And arguably the best example of mindfulness you have in your life? Your pet.
Animals’ brains don’t work in the same way that humans’ do; your pet doesn’t actually have the ability to ruminate about the past or worry over the future (a common experience that prevents people from being mindful). As such, “pets are the ultimate example of staying in the moment,” says Christina P. Kantzavelos, a Joshua Tree and San Diego, CA-based therapist with Begin Within Today and the author of the Begin Within Healing Journal. “They can simply ‘be.’”
And by spending time with your pet (and observing them “simply being”), you can see what mindfulness looks like in action—and apply what you see to your own mindfulness practice.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Deanna deBara is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR. She covers a wide range of wellness topics, including fitness, nutrition, relationships, and mental health. Her work has appeared on Greatist, Men’s Health, Ravishly, The Fix, What’s Good by The Vitamin Shoppe, and more.