Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Wagging tails and healing hearts 

Dr. Wright's dog Lucy, out for a spring walk at the University of Virginia.


If you or your patients are thinking about getting a pet, full encouragement; life is better with animals around. Pets generally improve mental well-being by offering unconditional love, reducing stress, and providing a sense of purpose. 

The mental health crisis affecting our world is real. Patients, and healthcare professionals, encounter challenges accessing mental healthcareit’s become even worse since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Considering the stress that humans are facing, petsfrom dogs to cats to budgies to ferrets to tortoises to goldfishcan have a positive effect on mental well-being. 


How pets can enhance mental well-being: 

1. Unconditional love and companionship.

Non-human animals generally offer love continuously and unconditionally. They offer companionship, always listen, and provide physical comfort through touch. 


2. Reduce stress and anxiety.

Most pets model calmness and patience. Most of us can learn much by emulating them. 


3. Increased physical activity.

Dogs, for example, need walking and keep people active. This, of course, contributes to better physical health. As an added benefit, pet owners get outsidebreathing fresh air and meeting other dog walkers. 


4. Source of purpose and routine.

Taking care of a pet can provide a sense of purpose and routine. Knowing that “another” needs you and is dependent on you. This can help with an individual’s sense of worth and value. 


5. Provide support.

Pets provide comfort. They seem to know when we need them. Pets reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. 


One final note, be safe if dog walking. In an April 2023 sports medicine study at Johns Hopkins University a team of doctors analyzed 20 years’ worth of national data and reported that on average, around 21,000 people per year seek treatment for injuries related to walking their pups on leashes. The data suggests that most of these injuries occur in individuals between age 40 and 64, and the most common reported injuries are finger fractures, traumatic brain injury, and shoulder sprains/ strain. 


For safer dog walking, choose a stable leash (not a retractable one), pay attention during the walk (don’t lose your focus by looking at your phone or by having loud music blaring into earbuds). 


Finally, if you or your patient get a new dog, think it through carefully—what’s the right size, energy level, and temperament for you? And then go for it. Your life will be much better. 









This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.