Animal Magic – Social benefits

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Social benefits

“We are not just rather like animals; we are animals. Our difference from other species may be striking, but comparisons with them have always been, and must be, crucial to our view of ourselves.”

Philosopher Mary Midgely in the introduction to “Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature” (1979).

Delightfully, one of the main benefits of being with animals is how this enhances our relationships with humans. Animals provide warm, easy shared interest, conversation topics and potential activity with other patients, staff, friends, family, visitors.

“I get on better with other people. Now I can put my point across a lot better. I feel more comfortable working with other people. Now it’s something that I am really good at, I enjoy it.” Paws for Progress student

“As well as helping me work with others as a team, being part of Paws for Progress brought me closer to my family too. It gave me something good to talk to them about, for a start. Then I felt like I was doing something to make them proud of me, the first time I could talk to them about something positive in years.” Paws for Progress student


“Aye, it builds our confidence and that a bit better, to do other things as well.” Paws for Progress student

  • Research shows that contact with animals can result in considerable boost in:
    • self-esteem
    • hope
    • motivation
    • concentration
    • satisfaction
    • reduction of anxiety
    • wellbeing
    • social competence
    • interest
  • Having a nurturing role and responsibility is very beneficial for people who have limited opportunities for these important aspects of identity. It’s great to feel needed and wanted.
  • Animals are non-judgemental, which is greatly appreciated by patients who can feel over-assessed and stigmatised. As the author George Eliot put it: “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”
  • Hierarchy – patients can feel they aren’t the most in need of help on the ward and that they can be the providers of that help.

“I think just like, seeing that the dogs kind of trust you a wee bit. They start to relax and that, it’s good feeling knowing that you’re helping that dog and that. Make a bit of a difference.” Paws for Progress student

Relationship with animals


  • Companionship is probably the loveliest aspect of contact with animals, especially pets on wards. Even in a frantically busy ward, patients can feel lonely and isolated.
  • Among many other benefits, there’s:
    • Unconditional affection, love, forgiveness
    • Familiarity, continuity,
    • Can be easier than contact with humans, especially for people with little language and/or who are very withdrawn.
    • Fun, playfulness
    • Cute, endearing. The aaaah factor.
    • Makes you wonder about how they think and feel.
    • Makes you feel protective
    • Mutual need
    • Stroking, holding, cuddling a loving animal is a great stress-buster.
    • Can gush all over them, call them ridiculous names, stroke them for hours, tell them over and over how magnificent they are, how much you love them. And other stuff like that which most humans would tire of after a few days if not minutes.

Emotional well-being


What an incredible ‘prescription’ for good mental health the following benefits of contact with animals are!


  • Stress-busting, anxiety-reducing
  • Supporting the therapeutic relationship with staff

“Of all the benefits we have observed, the most important is the increase in social interaction. The animals provide a bridge that can then be used to facilitate the development of the therapeutic relationship.” Unit Team Leader, Garden & Animal Therapy Centre at State Hospital Scotland

  • Enabling people to show their emotions
  • Helping with impulsivity, self-control and dealing healthily with aggressive thoughts and feelings

“I’ve seen a difference cos usually I’m just like, dead impulsive. Like, if somebody says something to us, I’d say something back. But no, I just leave it.” Paws for Progress student

  • Providing structure and routine to the day.
  • Increasing patience

“It’s revealed how much patience I can have – for myself, for animals and for other people too”. Paws for Progress student

  • Creating a sense of security
  • Having an external focus – i.e. beyond one’s own symptoms and situation
  • A connectedness with ‘reality’ for patients experiencing psychosis, dementia and other disorienting symptoms
  • Boosting motivation

“I’ve not finished anything I’ve done before. I start it, then I just ditch it. It doesn’t interest me. I only do things that interest me. This is different. It’s good.” Paws for Progress student

Motivation is often lacking in our patients. Some appear to view their lives as suspended until they are free again, while some simply see no point in doing whatever is asked of them. One patient, who spent much of her time picking up specks from the carpet and showing no desire to take part in any activity, reacted very favourably when she saw our therapet dog, Harvey, a West Highland Terrier. At that time Maureen rarely left the ward. Her sole motivator appeared to be her next cigarette. Maureen’s reactions of smiles and friendly gestures were noted by staff, who asked if we would let Maureen take the dog for a walk around the grounds. We were happy to do this, and so was Maureen. On returning to the ward after the first walk, staff reported that this patient became motivated to change her clothes and take an interest in other things. The walk became a weekly event, and during the walks Maureen, who had difficulty talking coherently, talked to other patients she met and had conversations with us about her previous experience of dogs. It was obvious that she was very fond of Harvey, because her face simply lit up when she saw him. This patient was subsequently transferred to a local hospital, and after about eight months, Harvey was taken to see Maureen in her new location. Maureen remembered Harvey and expressed appreciation at his visit.   State Hospital Scotland

  • And helping people:
    • Relax
    • Focus
    • Enjoy small things
    • Live in the moment (mindfulness…)
    • Let go
    • Exercise imagination and curiosity


  • Additionally, dogs fetch these well-established mental health enhancers:
    • Being outdoors
    • Exercise



Whether it’s feeding the fish, mucking out the stable, walking the dog or stroking the cat, contact with animals can be a wonderful way of gaining new skills such as:

  • Enhancing responsibility, compassion, and empathy
  • Learning what animals need
  • Increasing problem-solving skills
  • Changing deeply established attitudes and behaviours

Click here to read about the Health Benefits

Categories: Animal Magic