AVMA, American Psychiatric Association lead Twitter chat about pets, mental health

Studies have found that interacting with animals can decrease levels of cortisol, reduce loneliness, and increase feelings of comfort and social support, according to Jen Brandt, PhD, AVMA director of member wellbeing initiatives. Pets can also serve as a bridge for social interactions, help you be more active, and reduce work-related stress, she said during a recent Twitter chat about pets and mental health.

The AVMA and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) joined forces in March to call attention to the mental health benefits of having a pet. On March 29, the two organizations hosted a Twitter chat about pets and mental health under the hashtag #Paws4MentalHealth.

The campaign encourages pet owners to take a break, get up, stretch, and share a picture of their pet with an explanation of how their pet positively impacts their mental health.

Leadership from both groups were involved in the interactive chat, including Dr. Lori Teller, AVMA president, and Dr. Rebecca Brendel, APA president.


According to a recent APA poll, nearly 90% of pet owners said their pet positively impacts their mental health. The chat started by addressing the ways pets improve our mental health.

“Pets can be a great source of affection, love, and loyalty,” Dr. Brendel said. “The APA was proud to collaborate with the AVMA and spotlight the important positive role pets can on our mental health, and the ways we can strengthen our bonds with our pets.”

“Pets are naturally great listeners and confidants,” Dr. Teller added. “Their companionship provides social and emotional support simply by helping create connections with other people or simply being present in our lives.”

Brandt explained that people can help build a bond with their pets by learning about animal behavior to accurately assess pet’s body language, likes, and dislikes.

“Cats and dogs thrive with consistency and feel safe when we remain calm,” Brandt said.

Companion animals can aid with the treatment of diagnosed mental health issues, and for many people their pet has a large part in helping to manage their health. 

“Pets provide structure and a sense of purpose, a deep emotional connection that may not feel safe with other humans, reduce feelings of isolation due to stigma, and help distract from symptoms of illness,” Dr. Brandt said.

Recognizing that both veterinarians and psychiatrists experience significant professional stress, the experts offered some ways these two groups can manage the pressure and compassion fatigue that accompany their professions.

“All people are struggling with burnout,” Dr. Brendel said. “It is vital for all of us to check-in with each other and ourselves and know when it is time to take a break and find activities, like playing with your pet, that help us reset and reduce our stress and anxiety.”

Brandt suggested both an individual approach to managing stress as well as a systemic approach.

“Prioritize good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, and social connection,” she said. “Establish clear boundaries and recognize early warning signs.”

Brandt added that approaching stress from a systemic lens means addressing unfair treatment, unmanageable workloads, and unclear communication.

She emphasized the need to build psychological safety, require training for leaders, set clear expectations, promote work-life harmony, provide autonomy, and offer valuable benefits for employees. 

“This is one of the most important issues facing our profession, and a critical focus for the AVMA,” Dr. Teller said, referring to professional stress. “I encourage all veterinary team members to familiarize themselves with these resources from AVMA to help address compassion fatigue.”

The AVMA has resources available on work and compassion fatigue, wellbeing, and the human-animal bond.